Star Trek Discovery Episode Five: Morality and Peak TV Poison the Well

There’s a lot of weight involved with the history of Star Trek. In part, this is why prequels to what is already a very fleshed-out universe can tend to be more divisive than previous iterations of Star Trek. We’re here, in the middle of the second prequel to The Original Series, and much like Enterprise earned the ire of fans throughout its historically-maligned run (it’s actually way better than anyone would give it credit for), Discovery is now sort of maddening.

I tend to stay away from reading TV bloggers because they tend to be infuriating. This idea of “peak TV” has turned television blogging into praising the same few, tired tropes that have proliferated their way into just about every “important” television show. It’s not that these things are exactly bad, it’s just that too much of the same thing can grow tiresome. When it comes to Star Trek, though, I’m not quite sure that the peak TV ideals work into the Star Trek universe, yet, here we are, with a “Peak TV” Star Trek and I guess that people sort of like it? But what I hear from a lot of other people that I know dig Star Trek is a resounding “meh, but it’s Star Trek, I guess.”

So here we are, episode five of Star Trek: Discovery and I’m just a blank slate. It happened and while I wasn’t super angry about it, I wasn’t super happy about it, either. This idea of a big, cohesive story arc sounded great in theory. Remember the great Star Trek story arcs? TNG had the Borg, DS9 had the Maquis, the Prophets, the Dominion, Voyager was just a big story arc and Enterprise had the Temporal Cold War and the Xindi. So a story arc isn’t exactly new to Star Trek, but there doesn’t seem to be room for anything else. In a way, it’s suffocating. Star Trek being as focused as a short-run series doesn’t feel right. There’s always a focus on the characters, on the smaller, unaffiliated planets that Starfleet stumble upon and make contact with or have moral dilemmas over.

Morality plays a huge part in Star Trek and any attempt at morality here feels hamfisted and like the show is trying too hard to play into ambiguity or the idea of antiheroes without giving a reason to care about actual heroes. Everyone is fucking awful, nobody gets along or trusts each other and most of the characters feel like complete, selfish pieces of shit with only Michael being punished for doing something that wasn’t really her actual fault. The idea is supposed to be that Captain Lorca is morally ambiguous, perhaps a bit on the “darker” side of the spectrum, but it kinda doesn’t work? He doesn’t have moral dilemmas in his decisions, instead there are simply decisions made by Lorca and other members of the crew that, in the realm of Star Trek, should require a lot of thought, a lot of struggle and give us insight into these characters. Yet, there’s nothing.

There’s only really one character with any sort of moral compass, which is Michael, our protagonist. Even then, it feels hollow because the rest of the characters are just there, making their decisions and there has been zero repercussions, only minor mulling over of what’s happening. Everyone is at war and nobody seems to give a shit. Stamets is sort of having moral problems, but will very quickly cave in and doesn’t grapple with anything, but we know that he’s gay, which as a focus in Star Trek, seems weird. Because this isn’t new territory, it’s been established that humanity’s views on sexuality has come a long way. I’m not saying that having gay characters is bad, because it’s great, but the way it was presented here was a weird… backpat?

This weird morality stuff with Lorca ditching Harry Mudd in a Klingon prison ship just feels off for Star Trek. This is only ten years prior to TOS, and while the Federation didn’t exist yet and canonically, well, there probably isn’t a Prime Directive just yet (seriously it’s not clear when exactly it was implemented). Yet, since it is so damned close to TOS, we know that Starfleet puts its captains through intense scrutiny, that someone seemingly this mentally unfit to lead is a captain of an insanely expensive and important ship for Starfleet makes almost zero sense. This guy, who blew up his own damned ship and crew, it was revealed, for seemingly hilariously dumb reasons, was given another damned ship. He even gets dressed down by Starfleet in this episode!

I honestly don’t even care if this dude he rescued is a Klingon plant or whatever. Who cares? My god. At least they let their mushroom-tripping super predator that was actually pretty chill once he got stoned go. Can’t wait to see why this trippy mushroom drive ends up being scrapped and never mentioned again in Star Trek canon.

Star Trek Discovery: Episode Four, or, Who Really Cares About Anything?

Imagine a place, a comfortable place that you feel safe in. Perhaps it’s somewhere from your childhood, the kind of place that you ran away to when things got complicated, or you were confused. This is the kind of place where you could always go to and know that you could be you, without worrying about what anyone else had to think about you, without that crushing responsibility or judgement that has grown to define your very existence. Maybe you have this place as an adult, or maybe it existed at some other, pivotal time in your life.

Even if this place was imaginary, it exists and is a powerful image that cannot be erased.

Now imagine something else, something doing its best to conjure up these images, but doing so without the same intent, thoughtfulness or weight. This something is trying to manipulate you, to draw you into this ideal of yours, but the not to comfort or remind you of a time when life was going your way. Oh no. Instead, what’s happening is these images are being conjured, distorted and broadcast because someone was told that this would be a good idea. These images exist, right? These vivid, ultra-lucid memories have such profound meaning for us that it’s a virtual slam-dunk to remind us of these images, even if the substance isn’t there.

Let’s take this a step further, and place these images on a platform, one that functions on a level that tries to beam the refuse that is “Young Sheldon” into your mind in a BAZINGA haze. There’s no point to any of this, none of these images, the platform or anything else have a lick of meaning other than to remind you that at one time you liked something and that a part of you wants to like something again, even though it’s a cheap facsimile: a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy, just with the lines redrawn on each time bolder and more pronounced to cover up the degradation that occurred through each sad iteration.

There’s absolutely no reason to care, outside of an insignia, a title and a promise, yet you are drawn to it because that promise is so strong. That good faith is a folly, because through four, painstakingly mediocre hour-long stretches (which could’ve been shorter if the platform wasn’t beaming periodic intermissions that froze the whole fucking thing) there’s been nothing, absolutely nothing worth a damn, not a single character, plot twist, gizmo or bit of nostalgia. Just simulacra. Just a sad stab in the dark without a rhyme or reason beyond market research and a desire to do something — anything — with an age old franchise but to drag it through the chaparral while on fire because these images have been burnt into our minds, these memories have formed bonds that can be exploited and only a fool would pay $7.99 a month to watch a fading fucking reminder of who we used to be.

Star Trek Discovery Episode Three Was… Not Terrible

So last week I went in pretty hard on Star Trek: Discovery. For good reason, though: it didn’t quite feel like Star Trek. If you aren’t big into Star Trek that’s going to seem like a strange statement because, well, it’s Star Trek and it’s nerdy.

Truthfully, I had planned to write more last night about it, but then Las Vegas happened and it was difficult to focus on anything but that. In fact, it still is. Yet, I’m writing about Star Trek here because who knows.

I’m still hesitant to go all-in on Discovery because there is still that lingering fear that it’s going to be more JJ Abrams than the Trek we know and love, but this was indeed closer to Star Trek than the first two episodes were. In fact, throughout the episode I kept finding myself thinking “why even bother with those two episodes?” They were action-packed, but only really introduced a few recurring characters and while it served for backstory for the lead, Michael, those two episodes were still largely… nothing?

If anything they could have been condensed into one and served as an introduction as opposed to a stand-alone movie with a big name actress to establish our lead.

As a writer, I look at the first two episodes, then I look at the third, and I’m imagining what the third would feel like without that context from the first two and how it could have been a much more effective mode of storytelling to leave that mystery there. Introduce Michael as the quiet “mutineer” in Starfleet trying to redeem herself and sprinkle in her memories of those events as flashbacks throughout the season instead.

That gives the character an air of mystery and us, the viewer, finally seeing the full story unfold through her eyes would allow us to see that her actions that led to her disposition were justified. Instead, we’re to believe that they were and that she was unfairly punished by Starfleet and there is no dawning inside of her that she can forgive herself after self-reflection.

For starting a war, she also got let off pretty easily after a mere episode. Sure, they’ll be uneasy about her and she’ll have to win their trust over, but this whole redemption arc feels telegraphed by their fairly linear and straightforward storytelling method that is more focused on action than introspection.

The pacing was a lot better in this episode, the mystery and horror elements were fine, if sorta ho-hum, but it felt more like a Star Trek episode in that there were problems that needed ingenuity and trust to overcome, albeit not many.

Let’s Go Down the Rabbit Hole with 90’s All Japan Pro Wrestling

For a while now I’ve been making guest appearances on my bud Aubrey Sitterson’s wrestling podcast Straight Shoot. We’ve mostly been talking about New Japan Pro Wrestling, which is incredibly hot right now. The last time we did something different, where I curated a playlist highlighting the legendary “Three Musketeers” from the 90’s in Keiji Mutoh, Masahiro Chono and Shin’ya Hashimoto.

People seemed to dig it.

So when we were brainstorming about the next project to tackle, the topic of the Four Pillars from All Japan Pro Wrestling in the 90’s came up and, well, it was a no-brainer.

So on Thursday, October 5th at 7pm pacific/10pm eastern this goes down, with PWG’s Excalibur as the special guest.

You can find the full episode description here.

For my friends out there who are already well-versed in this stuff it might be a lot of retread, but the idea is to target fans who have just gotten into Japanese wrestling thanks to New Japan’s rise in popularity and show off some of the other cool stuff that happened, while giving historical context and just talking about really great matches.

I’m stoked on this because Excalibur is a pretty big wrestling nerd as well, whom I’ve spoken with a few times and we seem to have pretty similar tastes when it comes to this stuff, while Aubrey is going in with fresh eyes.

You are urged to watch the matches prior (possibly for the third or fourth time, maybe even for the first?) and follow along while we talk about them.

Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Jumbo Tsuruta – June 8, 1990

Toshiaki Kawada vs. Mitsuharu Misawa – June 3, 1994 – Triple Crown Championship

Akira Taue vs. Mitsuharu Misawa – April 15, 1995 – Champion Carnival Final

Misawa/Kobashi vs. Kawada/Taue – June 9, 1995 – AJPW World Tag Team Championship

Mitsuharu Misawa vs. Kenta Kobashi – June 11, 1999 – Triple Crown Championship

The good news is if you dig that, there’s a whole wealth of truly great stuff out there. So check it out on the 5th.

Let’s Talk About Star Trek: Discovery

I’m sorry my poor, neglected blog. Truth be told, I haven’t been writing all-that-much of late. I’ve been trying, but twin boys are not just a lot of work, they are all-encompassing. Not that I’m complaining. Okay, perhaps I’m complaining a bit, because I miss writing and have attempted to kickstart things a few times only to find myself strapped for time and forced away from a project for days, if not weeks. If you’ve ever had the seedling of an idea before, you know how fragile it can be, and know that for it to sprout it requires ample amount of care and dedication. Scrawling out a few thousand words of a new idea only to abandon it within a few days, then returning to it and having a difficult time recapturing the magic is an absolutely soul-crushing feeling.

But is it as soul-crushing as the new, super-hyped Star Trek series debuting and failing to deliver? Yes, probably moreso, but still, Star Trek is one of the most beloved franchises in all of science fiction and requires a certain touch. Star Trek: Discovery lacks that touch in every possible way and after so long of a wait for a new series it feels pretty damned rotten, let me tell you.

That’s not to say that the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery were terrible, because they weren’t. In fact, they were pretty good, just not Star Trek. Okay, let’s pause for a second here, because there needs to be an understanding that they are, indeed, rather close to the JJ Abrams-era of Star Trek films that have been released and have been largely forgettable, popcorn affairs. Those Abrams-era films have so little in common with prior iterations of Star Trek that it feels like an entirely different franchise echoing the past with better effects, more attractive casts and a focus on action over substance.

If Star Trek: Discovery had debuted as Starbound Discovery or whatever, as a new franchise, I’d probably be pretty excited about where the show could go. Yet as not only a Star Trek, but yet another fucking prequel to The Original Series, there is a certain weight to be carried with that. Not only does the show need to fit into the already-established canon, but it needs to find its own identity in a world that is a mere ten years before the adventures of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Star Trek has never relied on action as the main method of telling a story. Instead the focus has been on wonder, discovery, interplay between characters, politics and, most importantly, exploring the relationship between humanity and its neighbors, surroundings and itself. The first two episodes of Discovery were bombastic and exciting, almost self-contained in that they told one story that introduced a new villain and saw his story arc more-or-less completed come the conclusion of episode two. There was no need for nuance, setting a foundation in the universe or establishing characters because what they wanted to establish was WAR. VIOLENCE. THE KLINGON THREAT.

So how have past Treks handled debuts?

  • The Original Series: Captain Pike is taken captive by a strange race, where he undergoes a series of unwitting trials where humanity is explored. There are fights, but minimal.
  • The Next Generation: Encounter at Farpoint is legendary for a reason. Q is introduced to the crew of the new Enterprise on its maiden voyage, where Picard encounters a strange, new race and try to get to know each other, only for something to be awry. It involves a mystery, a strange being and critical thinking to overcome the odds and avoid a possible dilemma.
  • Deep Space 9: Benjamin Sisko, who holds a grudge against Captain Picard for the death of his wife, is assigned the seemingly impossible task of maintaining a diplomatic space station, where it is uncovered that he’s actually some sort of religious figure to the Bajoran people. He must grapple with his complicated feelings towards Picard and transitioning from life on a starship to life on a space station.
  • Voyager: Captain Janeway is searching for rogue Maquis ships while one of her crew is undercover within. Voyager and the Maquis are ripped through a wormhole into the Delta Quadrant more than 70 years away from home and must cope with their hostilities with each other to come together to brave a strange new existence.
  • Enterprise: Captain Archer is tasked with returning a Klingon that crash-landed on Earth back to Qo’nos in the Starfleet’s first real foray into intergalactic politics, where he must travel in a ship with the warp engines his father designed against the wishes of the Vulcans, who have been the protectors of humanity since first contact.

Now, let’s look at Discovery.

Captain and Commander are on a desert planet, looking to save indigenous life, they talk about the Commander getting her own command. Back in space they encounter a strange object, which the Commander takes a jet pack out to explore. There, a space-suited Klingon charges forward and she sorta accidentally stabs him to death. The Commander executes a poorly-done mutiny because the Captain won’t shoot the recently-discovered Klingon ships on sight and then a giant fucking space battle happens because Klingons are rebuilding their empire and this happened to be the meeting place.

The usual charm just isn’t there. Instead the focus is on action from the get-go. The Klingons were always depicted as warlike and assholes, but this was just on another level. There was one conversation, then a giant space battle featuring both Starfleet and the Klingons ensued.

There’s some things set up there, like how our protagonist was on the precipice of her own ship, how she messed it all up and how the show will now be her redemption story. So, essentially, she’s Tom Paris from Voyager. Okay. The problem is, Star Trek has never been a solo show. Sure, the Captain is always the focal point (Commander Sisko in DS9’s case), but all of the other characters are just as vital throughout. Sure, it’s only been two episodes thus far telling one story, but I can’t, for the life of me, remember anyone’s name and there looks to be only one character that’ll carry over into the main cast. Even the “lesser” Treks like Enterprise and Voyager had an ensemble cast of characters that would endear themselves to viewers.

A part of the problem feels like the announced scope of the show, which would be a fifteen-episode season playing out a “two chapter” story arc. While long story arcs have contributed to the best of each series, the “throwaway” standalone episodes tend to be some of the best, by focusing on individual characters.Think “Beyond the Stars” from DS9 where Sisko has a vision from the Prophets as himself in New York, pre-Civil Rights, as a science fiction author for a magazine. It’s one of those powerful, unforgettable episodes that, while it plays into the larger story, is relatively self-contained.

The commitment, on CBS’s part, doesn’t seem to be there. CBS has literally sat on the franchise for years after Enterprise failed to deliver and done absolutely nothing with it. Now that the JJ Abrams-era films have done well, they used that as an opportunity to launch a new series. But the problem is the distribution: it’s behind a ridiculous paywall. No, it’s not on a popular streaming service like Netflix, Amazon or even Hulu. Instead it’s on CBS All Access, which is $5.99 a month. Oh yeah, and there’s ads, too. To get rid of the ads it’ll cost you $9.99 a month. Only the most hardcore of hardcore Star Trek fans are going to fork over money for a worthless streaming service such as this, yet this show seems to be aimed at the mythical “wider audience.” If they were always going to toss this behind a paywall, why bother trying to make a “cool” action series? You don’t simply stumble upon a pay service that you don’t need and decide to check it out. The show feels doomed for failure and like it’ll play out within one season before being cancelled and never heard from again.

It is, of course, Star Trek, which means that this could all be wrong and it could get a lot better. Enterprise not only started out rough, it was pretty awful until it got going. Voyager was shitty for entire seasons before it found its sea legs.

RIP Steven Furst, Babylon 5’s Vir Cotto

Let’s face it, science fiction television tends to attract some different actors than your traditional, bigger budget shows. Most of the budget on sci-fi shows will go to the special effects and keeping the damned thing afloat while it hemorrhages viewers. So it goes.

Yet, Babylon 5, with its limited budget and its mostly character actors that had zero real profile in Hollywood, put forth some amazing performances and really helped the characters to not just come to life, but to become some of the most memorable in the realm of science fiction.

One such actor was Steven Furst, whom has passed away. The man behind the modest, anxious and uncomfortable Vir Cotto was able to take a character that was simply an underling and make him feel like so much more. His struggles, his growth, the little bits of confidence or those rare moments when he chose to defy Londo or his people to do what he felt was right. Now what they told him was right, but what he had felt was the right thing to do.

The character popped and while the character grew into a more dynamic person, you couldn’t help but feel that Furst’s dedication to the role, his mannerisms, speech and vision for what Vir should be helped to drive that character.

So no, Vir didn’t have epic story arcs like Londo, Sinclair, Sheridan, Delenn or G’Kar, but if he wasn’t one of the most memorable parts of the show then I’ll be damned. Vir wasn’t a powerful man, he wasn’t the epic hero, but he was a guy that did his best for those around him and persevered to become the change that he wanted in the world, and Steven Furst helped to make that magical.

 

Former K-1 and GLORY Star Gokhan Saki Signs with the UFC

(note: not the standard fare for my site, but LiverKick is being worked on right now and this was too big not to talk about)

After months of speculation as to the future of former GLORY Light Heavyweight Champion Gokhan Saki, a strange Facebook post from Saki where he talked about signing his retirement papers from kickboxing to get out of his GLORY contract, to the cryptic statements on social media, there is finally an answer as to the future of “The Rebel.” That future is not in the kickboxing ring, but instead in the UFC Octagon. Weird, right?

Saki, 0-1 in MMA, has signed an exclusive contract with the UFC with no official debut date set yet, but his sights set on the September 2nd UFC event in Rotterdam. The timing and place all seem to make sense, but if it happens is another story altogether.

The former K-1 and GLORY star has notably been absent since his last fight in 2015, with there being a lot of talk of struggles with a knee surgery, recovery, weight-cutting and then contractual situations all keeping him from the ring. Of late he has been vocal about his disdain for GLORY Heavyweight Champion Rico Verhoeven, with there being talk of a possible showdown between the two only for it to never materialize.

This is a rather heavy blow for the world of kickboxing, with Saki one of the last remaining stars from the K-1 World Grand Prix era of kickboxing who had just found a comfortable place at light heavyweight.

If you’ve been following his social media drama of late, there was talk of Saki’s Instagram being “hacked” and a countdown was appearing meant to “expose” Saki to the world. It was phrased in a way to make it seem like he was the victim of a malicious cyber attack but was sort of hard to believe. It all led to a video of Saki in a cage wearing a GLORY shirt before taking it off to expose a shirt with the UFC logo.

Truly a showman and that’s one of the many reasons why kickboxing will miss him.

O.J. Simpson and Donald Trump; or, How We Never Learned Our Lesson

When it comes to the convergence of popular culture and politics, there is no need to look further than the previous few years. America believed that an unqualified real estate mogul and reality television star was fit to be the President of the United States. That decision was based upon the sea of red hats with small, white block text, slogans, outbursts and high drama that played off of the emotions of his intended audience. The pageantry was able to blind people to what many have perceived as the sad reality; which would be that Donald Trump is a guy who inherited money and power, meaning that he is and always will be out-of-touch with the people that he pandered to. Yet, he appealed to their baser instincts, sold the con to them and here we are, in an age of uncertainty while his followers continue to spout off catchphrases and formulate theories about his opposition.

Somewhere along the line I made the fateful decision that I would watch American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson on Netflix. I’m not entirely certain why, but it was simply one of those knee jerk decisions one tends to make while mindlessly browsing on Netflix for some background noise. While I remember a lot about the OJ fiasco, including the trial, the pop culture fallout and OJ’s subsequent legal problems and jailing, but I never found much of a reason to revisit it, even this FX series that many have heaped praise on. Still, I turned it on, expecting it to be campy, ridiculous and something I’d turn off before the credits rolled on the first episode.

Instead I’ve found myself reliving the trial and the fanfare, all while aghast at the shocking parallels to our modern predicament that I was finding. The loose threads began to intertwine and form a tapestry that was impossible for me to not marvel at with each passing episode; The OJ Simpson trial and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign were hilariously similar.

Before you say it, yes, there are very, very obvious differences. The defense was able to weave a tale around a racist detective with a serious history of abuses, outbursts and violence against black people, this all happening after the LA riots over the Rodney King beating by the LAPD. To say that LA was a powderkeg in the 90’s would be an understatement, in fact, many were concerned about racial tensions reaching a head with the OJ case. But stick with me here.

The OJ Simpson trial was in 1995 and we haven’t learned a goddamned thing about the allure of celebrity or how hucksters can appeal to our raw, emotional sides to get us to react strongly to their narratives. OJ Simpson’s “Dream Team” was able to construct narratives of conspiracy, racial bias and everything else all without refuting or disproving the mountain of evidence that was collected to prove that OJ Simpson killed Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.

The prosecutors had assembled what was a logical case against Simpsons; one that felt like a “slam dunk” only for it to fall apart due to their “side” having a few bad apples involved all while the opposition spinning yarns to set doubt into the minds of the jury and the public, enough so that what was most likely a murderer walked free.

Does any of this sound familiar yet? Because it should. All of this because of the public’s distrust and frustration with a system that they found to be unfair while someone was able to take advantage of these emotions by painting their opposition as corrupt, uncaring and incapable of being fair or objective. This is exactly what the Trump campaign did to win the election, that’s why it should feel familiar.

Let’s look at the similarities.

The blinding allure of celebrity.

While no one can be certain if good ole’ Bob Kardashian really was the reluctant good guy like he was portrayed in the FX series, or if he somehow actually had the prescience to lecture his children on the perils of celebrity without virtue or that his family name would live on in part thanks to a rapper named Ray J’s junk is up for debate, but the rather ham-fisted attempt to look at the concept of celebrity makes an interesting point here. OJ’s main argument for his innocence was that he was OJ and that people loved him. He was OJ, he couldn’t have done that, right? It didn’t matter how much evidence there was, he was rich, powerful, well-known and beloved.

Donald Trump’s name alone speaks to people. Trump has his real estate ventures (even the ones that he simply licenses his name to), his steaks, his goofy hair, his lines of clothing or products only found in SkyMall and yes, his time on “The Apprentice,” catchphrase and all. This is a man who had been in millions of American homes for years, hammering in his gauche sense of class into the working class’s collective minds. I mean, this was the Miss USA pageant guy, this guy knew how to make investments, am I right?

Most of us look to Trump and see a lot of bluster and not much substance, but we also weren’t his target audience, either. His target audience knows his name, knows his brand and have stayed in his hotels, they bought his dumb hats, they repeat his catchphrases and consider him to be a successful businessman, even if he wasn’t. He’s said that he’s helped people, so of course he has, right? It’s a face that you can trust, just like OJ’s. OJ was in Lethal Weapon, he wasn’t a bad guy. Trump was at Wrestlemania, he can’t be a bad sport.

The champion of a disenfranchised people.

The show went out of its way early on to point out that OJ was a hero in the black community, but perhaps not as much before the trial as he was after, even if that was brief. OJ made a name for himself and left everyone behind, not looking back because he had made it on his own merits, everyone else would need to drag themselves up like he did. The defense was able to make him a more sympathetic figure all around, endearing him to the black communities that didn’t hold him up as a hero as one of their champions.

Much in the same vein, Donald Trump has never been the hero to the working class. Literally a man who spent his life in a gilded tower looking down upon everyone else, stories of his stingy interactions with the common people plagued him throughout his campaign. Still, he persisted to push that he was for them, even if history told a different story. Trump went from a New York elite billionaire to the hero of the disenfranchised white person almost overnight thanks, in part, to his campaign targeting these people and playing off of their very real fears and insecurities when it comes to job opportunities, healthcare costs and boogeymen ruining their lives.

So while the media found it offensive that he’d retweet white supremacists and not disavow support from David Duke, the disenfranchised white voters began to see someone who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with these people, even if he claimed not to agree with them 100%.

An emotional plea.

Perhaps the most effective parts of OJ’s defense were the emotional pleas and grandstands that his legal team, headed up by Johnnie Cochran and Robert Shapiro, were able to make. Playing off of his appeal to the disenfranchised and taking full advantage of his recognizable, heroic facade they were able to plant the seeds of doubt that a man as beloved as OJ Simpson could have committed a grisly murder. The signs were there, the evidence was there, but wouldn’t it make sense if a white cop who hated black folks wanted to see a prominent black man get taken down a notch?

The showmanship of the trial has been legendary, including the memorable moment where OJ Simpson was tasked with slipping on the famous bloody gloves only for him to put on a show, struggling with them and keeping his fingers spread out to act like the gloves didn’t fit him. “If it does not fit, you must acquit,” Cochran repeated in a refrain at the jury during his closing arguments. That moment has lived on far beyond the trial itself and will perhaps be studied for years to come as either ridiculous or brilliance (perhaps both) by legal scholars.

But they knew what they were doing. They appealed to a sympathetic audience that the LAPD was crooked and racist, that the system was rigged against black people and presented evidence that was at times compelling. Trump’s team, masterminded by white nationalist Steve Bannon and whatever the hell Reince Priebus is, made similar pleas to their audience. Telling people who perhaps didn’t fully believe in the concept of “white genocide” but hadn’t ruled it out yet that Mexicans coming over the border were rapists, job thieves and “bad hombres,” well, they were compelled to agree. Instead of being seen as a crazy, racist old man, they saw him rallying against the perception of “PC culture” that parts of the media had been hardening them against. You know the types, the ones who have been regaled with stories of participation trophies, Tinder and “safe spaces” running rampant (note: they aren’t) keeping them from having the America that THEY wanted. Those damned “social justice warriors” won’t let them call a spade a spade anymore, but Donald Trump, well, he was speaking his mind.

That apparently meant pushing nationalist agendas, painting entire swaths of Muslims and Mexicans as awful people who would look to undermine this great nation. If Johnnie’s refrain of “If it does not fit, you must acquit” won over the jury, Trump’s “Make America Great Again” spoke to people grieving over the loss of industry to nations paying pennies on the dollar to their workforce while corporate fatcats counted their profits while these people slipped further into opiate-dulled despair.

A white woman serving as “the man” while her sane counterpart falls to pieces.

It can also be noted that in both the OJ Simpson trial and the 2016 presidential election the opposition was a woman. While that may seem like a minor point, the realities that women face are still much different than that of a man. Marcia Clark’s personal life, wardrobe and hair choices became a matter of national attention, taking the LA prosecutor’s role and brushing it aside to judge her as a woman.

Much in the same vein, Hillary Clinton faced a lot of strange blowback because she was a woman. Perhaps Democratic Clinton die-hards pushed too hard against the disenfranchised Bernie supporters with concerns about her as misogynists (although, clearly, some were), but there was a lot of grief that went her way about everything from her pants suits to her “creepy grandma smile” became a matter of debate. Hillary represented the system that people didn’t trust in this election, much like Marcia Clark played the role of having to sidestep racist cop allegations (which were pretty much true in the case of Furhman) while the defense built an entire case around the LAPD being racist, with her as a stand-in for that organization.

As an aside, you could make the case of Christopher Darden playing the role of Bernie Sanders during this whole debacle; him being the loveable loser who sympathizes with the points of the other side, but still feels a moral obligation to see them thwarted.

A belief in the system turns a slam dunk into a failure.

A scene in the show during the jury selection procedure saw Marcia Clark talk about believing in justice, the system and the good of the people. Everyone within their department saw the mountains of evidence against OJ and saw the case as rather academic. Who wouldn’t? What they didn’t take into account was a team of lawyers and experts willing to do whatever it took to create narratives that would plant doubt into the minds of the jury to ensure that “reasonable doubt” was there when it came time for them to deliberate. The end result was jarring to most onlookers.

A Hillary Clinton victory seemed in-the-bag to most pundits and, well, the rest of the world. In fact, the lead-up to the election featured talk about how Trump wouldn’t concede to her victory and would fight the election results, not about what he’d do when he won. He whined and droned on about the system being rigged for weeks before that polls that all showed a certain Hillary Clinton victory were proven wrong. The thing is, polls don’t work if the people being polled are too ashamed to admit that they are voting for someone. So while SNL joked about just calling her “President Clinton” already and Trump’s chances looked slim, reality hit most of us pretty hard on election night when Trump broke away with the Electoral College and the numbers just kept coming in as in his favor.

They didn’t account for the emotional pleas, the theater and the catchphrases.

We’ve learned nothing.

To put it plainly; we, as a people, have learned absolutely nothing. Perhaps history will give Trump the same treatment that OJ has received, including him being sued for the wrongful deaths of Ron and Nicole later on and being sentenced to pay millions (which he never did), then OJ fleeing to Florida and laying low until he was arrested for a sports memorabilia assault and sentenced to 33 years in prison. So yeah, OJ probably did it and yeah, OJ wasn’t a good guy like he played on TV.

Will Donald Trump see the same just desserts, or will he somehow escape his four years without being impeached or found to be a criminal that many believe him to be? That remains to be seen.

What’s troubling, though, is that something from twenty years ago can feel this relevant and that people keep making the same mistakes when it comes to the idea of celebrity and trusting the man on television.

Yakuza 0 Is an Unrivaled Lesson in Character Development and Storytelling

When you think about videogames, most of the time character development and storytelling aren’t he first things that come to mind. That isn’t to say that videogames don’t focus on these things, because they do, but they tend to fail due to the compromises made for the medium.

Gamers like games to have a certain level of challenge to them, they like to accomplish something and advance not just a story or a character’s arc, but their own skill and in-game possessions. What this has led to is a rather stagnant world of games where “good guy with a gun” (yes, you can swap it out for good guy with a sword, etc.) is not only the norm, but the only standard to hold games to. If anything, it gets tired after a while.

Where Yakuza 0 varies from the formula might seem insignificant, yet while playing the game all I could think about was how refreshing it was. Sure, it’s from Sega and is essentially Shenmue with a bunch of yakuza tough guys over the bright-eyed, bushy-tailed naivety of Ryo Hazuki, but that doesn’t matter. Yu Suzuki wanted to tell the story of a young man’s coming of age story through a somewhat fantastical journey, while Yakuza doesn’t try to hide the frayed edges of its world.

In a lot of ways, both Kiryu Kazama and Goro Majima, the main protagonists, are kind of boring. Kiryu, especially, is devoid of much outside of his determination and fighting ability. There is more to Majima, but at the same time, they are both strong, talented and resilient fighters who are able to crush any-and-everyone who stands in their respective paths.

That, alongside the repetitive fighting system that provides thrills the first dozen times you perform a cool move, but wears off the next five dozen times, should be instant disqualifiers from this being a great game. Never mind the fact that it’s a barely upscaled PlayStation 3 game re-released on the PlayStation 4 with the main characters getting a texture upgrade. Yet, none of those things matter and it all rests solely on the shoulders of the wide array of side quests and the absolutely stunning writing.

So while Kiryu is your default young yakuza upstart and Majima is your fallen-from-grace yakuza, both have their own unique motivations that drive them forward and are shaped by the characters that they meet along the way.

There isn’t a single character that you encounter in either the game’s main story of the side quests that doesn’t deserve careful attention, which, in a way, is stunning. This game is dense and packed full of content, but nothing about it feels rushed or like there wasn’t careful thought put into it.

Most games and genre-content tend to fall into the same tropes when it comes to creating characters; some are good, some are bad and some are mysteriously in the middle, but not everyone will need to feel real. If a character isn’t pivotal to a plot thread or moving the main story along, who cares, right? Yakuza 0 laughs in the face of that and provides everyone with a compelling backstory, motivations and it makes the world and the inhabitants feel that much more important.

There was not a single enemy that Kiryu or Majima faced that after a knock down, drag out brawl left you walking away thinking that they were just a challenge to overcome. These were people and they were difficult not to feel for. Everyone in the game lives by a code of honor and ethics which can at times be at odds with their goals and aspirations. Those conflicts aren’t ignored, though, just to move the story along, instead they are fully explored and discussed to the point where an enemy can remain and enemy but you, the player, no longer want to see bad things happen to them.

kuze

There are characters like Kuze that seem like they are going to be run-of-the-mill yakuza movie tropes with their back tattoos, their cool shades and their raspy voices, but even the madman Kuze has a reason to do what he does. With every encounter you learn more and more about him, his struggles, why he became a yakuza and how he can desperately want revenge on a character, but if it would harm the family he wouldn’t dare do such a thing.

Everyone is both good and bad, while simultaneously being neither of those. There are a few characters who remain on a certain part of the spectrum, but even then, they are treated differently and almost with reverence for existing outside of this broken system of damaged boys playing like men.  One of my personal favorites would have to be one of the characters that perhaps had the biggest impact on Majima in Nishitani. Nishitani is a fucking madman who reminds me a lot of Tadanobu Asano’s Kakihara in Ichi the Killer, although I’d argue that there is a lot more of Nishitani to care about than there ever was for Kakihara.

nishitani

There are twists and turns throughout the story and yeah, you know that eventually Kiryu and Majima’s stories are going to intertwine with each other, but when they do it is masterful and not forced. Instead of the twists being eye-rolling, they were fun. The ones that you could see coming were usually ones that you didn’t want to believe and the ones that you couldn’t were your deepest fears. That is good storytelling.

So while it’s easy to get lost in the side quests, the cabaret or real estate minigames or a host of the other parts of Yakuza 0 that make it such a fantastic game, it’s the writing and depth that really takes it to the next level.

This game will frustrate you, make you laugh, make you cry and even make you proud at times — all of that because of the story and the characters. While there are many, many games that feature solid writing and storytelling, Yakuza 0 is perhaps one of the best examples of how not to compromise gameplay or storytelling to create a complete package.

Back on the Writing

Perhaps the most difficult part of fatherhood for me has been the time suck that it has been. Sure, it’s probably that we had twins and didn’t just have a singleton. I get that. Sometimes it’s difficult for me to hold back my disdain for the other new parents I see on Twitter and Facebook who are doing normal things with their lives.

I haven’t even seen Rogue One yet. Think about that.

But such is life, I wouldn’t trade my two little guys for anything in the world, even if it is exponentially more difficult to deal with twins. That’s not what I’m here to talk about though. Oh no. Instead, I’m here to talk about something absolutely magnificent that happened somewhere along the way; my kids sleep.

They sleep damnit, even if it isn’t always restful and I have to go in what feels like dozens of times a night (a dozen maybe, in reality) to put a pacifier in and soothe them, they sleep. No longer can I expect the regular disturbances throughout the night where they wake up screaming and need to be picked up, changed, fed, comforted and rocked back to sleep each and every time. This was happening at least once a night for each, always at different times, usually more than once for at least one of the kids. Probably Lennox. Yeah, Lennox.

But the best part about them sleeping is that suddenly I have time to work again. If you know me you know that I’m a workaholic, or at least I became one in the past few years. There wasn’t a day where I wouldn’t wake up, grab something to eat, then head into my office and start working. Occasionally I’d take a few days off here and there, but I am a creature of habit to a fault and this was my daily routine.

Since the kids were born that routine went into the trash. After Uproxx gave their part timers a boot my work time was whittled down to nothing. After Lori went back to work it was essentially I’d steal a few minutes here and there to throw up a post on LiverKick. That’s it. Even something simple as leaving the house and seeing other human beings became painfully difficult. The only time I’d get out would be Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays when I’d take Ichi to the vet to get fluids for his kidney disease. Think about that.

Now, I love my kids beyond how I ever imagined I could love and have greatly enjoyed watching them grow in their seven months of life, but it was starting to take a toll on my mental health. For me, writing was a way to clear my mind, to let off some steam and to keep my sanity. As soon as they were born I lost that and I steadily lost more and more of it until there was nothing left.

This is why the marvel of them sleeping has me so excited. In what has just been a little over a week of them sleeping I’ve gone back and worked on a revision that I’ve been really wanting to get to on what I suppose is my next book. As it turns out, I was incredibly close to being done with it, just needing to bang out 10,000 words, which I was able to do in a week’s time. Now I’m back at the editing stage again and it feels great knowing that I’m making progress in my work once again.

Now all I have to do is keep it up.

I write things, you read them. Pretty simple.