Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Blakes 7 is dead, Long Live Blakes 7!

Yeah, no reason for the dramatic opening line, apart from the fact that I may be about to review the final episode of Blakes 7 FINALLY. Yes, one of the most acclaimed TV episodes in the British pantheon, of pretty much the only sci-fi show (until recently) of which the British were not unreservedly ashamed of due to their near-pathological hatred of levity and imagination in all its forms. With the exception of Clive James who spaketh thus:

"...classically awful British television SF ... no apostrophe in the title, no sense in the plot. The depraved space queen Servalan, played by the slinky Jacqueline Pearce, could never quite bring herself to volatilize the dimly heroic Blake even when she had him square in the sights of her plasmatic spasm guns. The secret of Blake’s appeal, or Blakes appeal, for the otherwise infallibly fatale Servalan remained a mystery, like the actual wattage of light bulb on which the design of Blake’s spaceship, or Blakes spaceship, was plainly based."

I'm sure I don't need to point out the obvious errors in that drivel, so much as any of it can be understood but surely these two warrant especial notice and derision..

1) If anything it was the other way around, with Servalan in Blake's sights, but even then I can only think of a couple of cases. Furthermore, the suggestion of a love between them strongly suggests that Clive James has actually confused Avon and Blake for one another. Learn to watch TV, palski!

2) ...it was obviously based on a light bulb... so obvious you could not tell what type it was? Furthermore, why does the idea of ingeniusly practical miniature design offend you so? Is it something to do with envy due to your own sheer girth?

Of course I am probably making a faux pas in trying to read the offending rant as an English sentence. To freetranslation.com!



*Sigh* It did it's best.

I've been thinking quite a bit about Blakes 7 recently, having been rewatching the show from the beginning fairly recently (well, since Space Fall. Mum refuses to watch either The Way Back or Blake ever again, and fair enough) though we're now up to Star One. Do bear in mind we skipped a few episodes, and ISTR really, really not wanting to watch Orac a second time. Man, why the hell have all the good stuff in Part One???

At the same time, there's been the news of the SkyTV relaunch, anticipation for how bad it will have to be, some Miles-talk about a proper revamping, me bigging up pointlessly the snatches I've written of Calypso 5*, Ewen reviewing some dross that happens to have the B7 name appended to it like a toe tag saying "HRH The Prince of Wales" on the corpse of Leee John and some other errata. Noticeably me attempting to introduce a girl at TAFE who worships at the altar of Star Trek to what I (I would consider faithfully) described as "the guys who made Doctor Who making the Anti-Trek). I didn't try too hard, as I only gave her a disc with episodes 1-10 on it today, but still I'll be interested to hear her response.

I've also chatted with a mate about the traumatising final scenes, and today had a TAFE teacher reminisce about "the one where Adon tries to throw that guy out of the airlock" after she heard me mention the show's name. And.... erm, I'm running out of connections now. Though I saw a book on the shelf here at Ourimbah Uni library with an author named 'Restal' and knew a girl named 'Jenna' in highschool. Woooh, spooky!

Okay, maybe Blakes 7 hasn't ruled my life, but I have been thinking about it, and just recently I DID watch Blake.

It's hard to review, as there is so much perceived wisdom about it already, so many reviews, opinions, essays, such a sheer wealth of material written about it that it exhudes an intimidating aura of artistic indomitability. It has become Chris Boucher's colussus, and more than that, the single most famous episode of Blakes 7. To the point that when the show gets brought up, the events of the final episode are quick to follow in any situation. The amount of nerds who scream out "They kill off the entire cast!" is staggering. To all intents and purposes, Blake is as famous as the show itself. Blake and Blakes 7 have become one - with a perception that Boucher's last hurrah is an encapsulation of the entire series.

You may well think that, not having had much to say about this episode before, that I'm building up to a slamming of this episode, especially if you were odd enough to follow me around on OG and see that I recently referred to it as 'a re-write of Rumours of Death' (which it is). Not so. Blake is a tremendous piece of television, once past the slightly-too-long shots of the Xenon base self-destructing it keeps a mean pace for shows of its era, constantly surprising and manipulating the audience, and Boucher plays a lot of tricks to bind it all tightly together and keep the audience following every development. Wonderful moments like Vila whining "I can't imagine Blake doing that!" to Orac right after we've seen him as the ruthless bounty hunter shooting down his own man, are the glue that binds this all together.

Themes run through the story impressively, notably with the transposition of characters and their motives with one another. Blake's scarred face reminds the audience of Travis, once his deadliest enemy, whom he now behaves just as ruthless as. Similarly, Tarrant, the once thuggish and egotistical lieutenant who has learnt his place and gravitated towards the neutral position of moral authority is contrasted with Blake in their pairing. The man who was once the most self-centred member of the crew (well, with Vila it's debatable) offers to sacrifice his life for the rest of his crewmates, for once winning Avon's respect. After he awakes he meets Blake, who manipulates him in a grossly self-centred way - trying to trick Tarrant that Blake has saved him from his own assassins. That they are paired for most of the episode is very poignant, in that this episode is the first time that Tarrant has ever truly appeared to be a replacement for Blake, at the time when they are both doomed to die.

Interestingly, Soolin opens up a little in this story, after being the resident clam for a long while, along with Vila showing some rare bravery when he punches out Arlin, and Avon finally deciding to stand and fight the Federation as he has declined to do for the entire season. All of this happens such a short time before they are snuffed out of existence - just to emphasis the loss of these five humans? Or perhaps to say that we are all at our best under the threat of death?

And, yes, for the sake of this argument everybody's dead, Dave. Also worth noting that Dayna is the odd one out, as usual. I get the strange feeling Boucher didn't care for the character.

Beyond that, there are some questions to be asked about what message exactly the episode is trying to send. It certainly is made clear that death is inevitable. But that feels a bit more like commonsense than a strong message for the story to have. And here we come to the reason that I called Blake a re-write of Rumours of Death - it is. Both stories revolve around their endings, wherein there is a large, fatal misunderstanding that results in Avon killing the person he loves, destroying a resistance movement, and wishing death upon himself as a direct result. The big differences would be that Blake is written more competently, with more material to fill out the early stages of the episode, and that Rumours has a strong theme.

Rumours revolves around the central theme of identity, and how uncertain and fickle it can be in a world like The Federation. It is notable that 'Anna Grant' has three personalities - 'Sula', 'Anna' and 'Bartolomew', and by the end of the episode there is no indication which, of any, are genuine. Anna's words "I was only ever Anna for you" are telling, something of an admission that it was an act, but an act that she enjoyed. Likewise much of Avon's personality, his sense of identity has been based on his encounters with the Grants, shaping the very person that he is. Symbolically, once he has killed 'Anna', Avon prepares to lay down his life - Anna is a part of who he is, and if she is dead, then so is he. At the close of the episode Avon says at much to Tarrant, that he considers himself barely alive at all.

It's quite an intriguing look at how a world shaped by lies more than truths can affect those who grow in such a world, along with an unusual portrayal of revenge from Boucher, as an exercise laden by a chilly hollowness. When Avon corners Shrinker, deprived of his power (the foundation of the torturer's deluded identity as a strong individual) he is nothing but a weak-kneed, blithering coward. And of course, when he finds 'Bartolomew', he destroys the greatest enemy to Servalan on Earth, the best chance that the rebels have of any victory... and gets nothing but heartbreak in return.

Unfortunately, the story is some way from perfect, mainly due to an unnecessary preponderence of padding and Boucher's sometimes exasperating habit of sidelining the main cast in favour of his highly-disposable wise-cracking guest cast. But, the issue of identity gives it a rich thematic depth, which Blake sadly lacks.

The theme of Blake, amongst the various memes Boucher weaves through the script, is one of trust. Blake trusts Arlen. Blake and Tarrant can't trust each other. Trust is Blake's downfall, when he loses it from Avon. It has been noted that it's a very curious turn for the series, considering that Blake's great strength of character was his ability to trust others, thus bringing out their better qualities, and also his sound judgement of character. It isn't unthinkable that something could have happened to cause this unexpected change of character, but it feels like a bit of a cheat to the audience, by shrouding the matter in ambiguity.

Fortunately for Boucher, such defects can also be explained away as cohesion within the script - if the nature of the Federation's attack, Blake's plan, Arlen's scheme, and what exactly has happened to Blake (and Jenna) on Gauda Prime are all heavily ambiguous, then it can be said that he is simply expanding upon the nihilistic thos of the tragedy by creating a Universe of chaotic, unpredictable variables or even flaunting convention by preventing a limited view of proceedings, leaving the majority to the audience's imagination.

But, even so, it's a bit difficult to claim that it all hangs together effortlessly. Where on Earth do the Federation troopers come from - obviously the 'observer's' ship, but how does she land without the radars or blockade runners picking her up? Assuming Servalan is the observer, which is clearly the suggestion, how can she possibly have made her way into the High Council given the fact that she's operating under a terribly unconvincing alias and avoiding people who recognise her, and in the short amount of time that's passed since Warlord? Why didn't Blake set any procedures to follow upon Avon's arrival, if he was 'waiting for him'? Why does he appear so shocked to see Avon, when every ounce of his behaviour leading up to that point suggests that he strongly suspects that Avon is coming? And isn't Arlen's plan the most convoluted thing ever when you stop and think about it - she needs to raise a bounty for herself, make sure that Blake's chasing her, survive multiple attacks by bounty hunters, allow herself to be caught by Blake, pretend to be brainwashed and [via unclear means] help the Federation get in entirely undetected. That's a LOT for one woman to handle!

Due to these deficincies in plot and theme, I have to say that Blake's message is, somewhat sadly, summed up by the immortal words of an anonymous tool on Outpost Gallifrey - "the good guys lose, and the bad guys win". It may be good enough for most shows, but for a show as good as B7 you'd hope for something a little more nuanced once you've scratched the surface. Blake is an excellent piece of television, and as endings go it has to be perhaps the most unremittingly final ending ever devised (ironic, given its supposed 'cliffhanger' status)**
but it can be hard to reconcile with much of the show and its themes. Viewed in context of the greater pantheon of the series, it seems like little more than gratuitous nihilism that erodes the imagination shown previously in the series. Everybody's dead, Dave.


Oh bugger. I forgot to put all of the penis jokes in this review. Bah! It is WORTHLESS!

* Though, actually I haven't mentioned Calypso 5 in a while, thus depriving you, the humble reader, of highly camp dialogue that probably would only have been acceptable in television in the early 80s and no later, and considering the irony of that given that if the show was made then the B7 rip-off would be even more obvious.

Having glanced at one of my snippets of scripts, featuring the placid android Kitt and the insane gunman Esper I have to ask... have I just changed the names in a Vila and Avon scene?

KITT: No signal.

ESPER: Not much of a surprise. It would have to be stronger than me to still be active.

KITT: Without a signal it will be impossible to find.

ESPER: I've always said that nothing is impossible, Baal. Get looking.

KITT: Are you seriously suggesting that we blindly try to filter through 500 tonnes of rubble?

EPSER: No.

(Esper puts a friendly arm around Kitt)

ESPER: I'm suggesting you blindly try and filter through the rubble. I've done my bit.


Well... I guess not entirely. Maybe a bit more Tarrant in there.


**I think this is probably the most well known piece of 'trivia' in the world, btw.

8 comments:

Youth of Australia said...

Clive James hates sci fi. You know, I never realized he was supposed to be funny. He never smiled. Few people laughed. His voice remained a monotone. When I was older I noticed the slight wit to his words, but it's like a zombie reciting Shakespeare - so fucking what?

Odd how my maths teacher (a very good teacher too... just not at maths) also regailed me with tales of Orbit. Well, it makes a change from people doing renditions of KLF whenever they see a copy of The Monster of Peladon in my schoolbag... actually, come to think of it, I got off lightly. I think I'd beat myself up.

About "Blake"? I think I summed up all my opinions in my novelization. I have to say, though, I was honestly shocked when - writing Tarrant's last moments, I suddenly realized how totally unlikely it was.

You're wounded. You're self-destructive. Your only shag killed herself rather than be with you. You are now in a death trap with no hope of escape and, oh, by the way, you caused it.

And you run in the middle of the firing line to shout at Mr Catatonia Mr Bob Catatonia.

That's when I realized he wasn't shouting "Avon!" to say "Let's get the fuck out of here, we're surrounded by armed bastards!" Nor was he saying "Tell me you have a plan to get us the fuck out of here, we're surrounded by armed bastards!" but "I am going to kill you if it's the last thing I ever do! You got me into this you son of a bitch!"

OK, Tarrant's rather shifting the blame there and acting stupidly... but it's what he'd DO. Vila dies sad, Soolin and Dayna die surprised, Tarrant dies angry.

Youth of Australia said...

OK, now I've got that out of my head, your points. You know, they actually played the final scene in the Confidential of Boomtown? Why? I dunno. Simon Pegg's commentary gives the impression he loves the show and is trying to get it revived too. Or maybe it was "hey, this ep's shit, here's something WORTH watching?" (It's amazing how much RTD's "you know, this episode could be better" reveals...)

And Dayna's dead. I mean... her eyes go up in her head. Only dead people do that. And would Tarrant and Soolin have even TRIED to leave without her if she was alive, or even unconscious?

Oh yeah, and trust issue # 8947 - Avon trusts Tarrant. When Tarrant says Blake betrays them, the onus is on Blake to prove his innocence. This says a hell of a lot, considering that in Season 3, Avon wouldn't have trusted Tarrant to tell him the time. (Well, it's not so much trust - he didn't think Tarrant would betray him, but would be so fucking stupid as to get it wrong.) Remember, Avon KNEW Blake was a bounty hunter and the idea that he'd turned bad was always on the cards. But Avon was confident it could work. For Tarrant to get any reaction beyond "Open your fucking eyes you moron" means he's gone up in Avon's estimation.

Just something no one seems to notice.

As for your questions - a lot of fan fics suggests the troopers who turn up and shoot everyone are Blake's people (this explains how they got all in). Of course, you have to assume that Arlen isn't actually up to speed what's happening and Deva's talking about the Federation finding them in the long run ("Blake! They've found us!! I told you not to keep a blog!")... but if Arlen is already on GP, maybe the troopers are too, so they were already waiting.

As for Servalan, that was a deliberate joke. I think.

Why is Blake shocked? "Dude, the leather thing has gotten way out control, where's Cally, why is Vila's hair falling out and ZOMG that is a big gun..." Or maybe Blake sent his clone with Arlen for that last scene?

As for Arlen, I think she might be a sleeper brainwashed kind of gig. That talking about herself in the third person suggests she is either criminally stupid or criminally insane.

And I dunno if it's a hopeless ending. Since Blake is still confident that the rebellion can survive without him (as is Avon), the rebel alliance is in force to hold back the Federation and one spam email from Orac and Pylene 50 is fucked...

But it's not a happy one I agree.

And you know about the cliffhanger stuff...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

That's when I realized he wasn't shouting "Avon!" to say "Let's get the fuck out of here, we're surrounded by armed bastards!" Nor was he saying "Tell me you have a plan to get us the fuck out of here, we're surrounded by armed bastards!" but "I am going to kill you if it's the last thing I ever do! You got me into this you son of a bitch!"

Yeah, I can only agree with that one.

And Dayna's dead.

They're ALL dead. But yes, she's deader even than the rest of them, I think nobody disputes that. She certainly gives the most death-like performance, has the most "No way I'm coming back to this fucking series" vibe, and it sticks to the old adage with the black person being the first to go.

Avon trusts Tarrant. When Tarrant says Blake betrays them, the onus is on Blake to prove his innocence.

A good point. Somebody complained about the inconsistent nature of Tarrant's characterisation, especially with regards to Season 4, but I think it's character development rather than anything else. Avon defeats Tarrant time and time again in the Alpha Male, so Tarrant focuses on just being the better person as best he can.

a lot of fan fics suggests the troopers who turn up and shoot everyone are Blake's people (this explains how they got all in).

...hmmm. Would he be likely to dress his troopers in the uniforms of the same people who've tormented him his whole life?

"Blake! They've found us!! I told you not to keep a blog!"

Lol.

but if Arlen is already on GP, maybe the troopers are too, so they were already waiting.

I can sort of see it as easier to get a loner agent on the planet rather than a company of crack troops..

Why is Blake shocked? "Dude, the leather thing has gotten way out control, where's Cally, why is Vila's hair falling out and ZOMG that is a big gun..."

Heh, I guess that could work.

Blake is still confident that the rebellion can survive without him (as is Avon)

But seemingly nobody else is..

Youth of Australia said...

it sticks to the old adage with the black person being the first to go.
Surely Blake was the first one to go?

A good point. Somebody complained about the inconsistent nature of Tarrant's characterisation, especially with regards to Season 4, but I think it's character development rather than anything else. Avon defeats Tarrant time and time again in the Alpha Male, so Tarrant focuses on just being the better person as best he can.
And he manages it, since he's never the complete tool of the previous season. Hell, in Moloch Avon tells Cally he doesn't care what happens to him, but in Headhunter he freaks out at the idea of condemning them all to death.

...hmmm. Would he be likely to dress his troopers in the uniforms of the same people who've tormented him his whole life?
Ah, but remember, Blake is supposed to be working for a Federation Bounty Hunter place, so they might be using them as official uniforms.

Lol.
www.indulgemeimarebel@blogspot.com/gp

I can sort of see it as easier to get a loner agent on the planet rather than a company of crack troops..
UNLESS THEY HAVE TELEPORT! Yes, the Federation cracked it! Life is pointless! The end is nigh!

Heh, I guess that could work.
Of course, it could equally be "Ah, Tarrant got here first, this will require some fast talking, tact, finesse and discretion. Fortunately, I am blessed with both..."

But seemingly nobody else is..
Avon thought that Zukan could take over the duties well enough. If that doesn't scream "dispensibility", what does?

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Surely Blake was the first one to go?

First to go of the current credited regular cast. Whew. (Yeah, I realised that right after I'd typed it)

Hell, in Moloch Avon tells Cally he doesn't care what happens to him, but in Headhunter he freaks out at the idea of condemning them all to death.

Of course Vila's also on the ship, whom we know Avon considers fairly indispensible... unless he's on a shuttle with a radically decreasing orbit, of course..

UNLESS THEY HAVE TELEPORT! Yes, the Federation cracked it! Life is pointless! The end is nigh!

Hmm, hadn't considered that. But the suggestion in the series seems to be that they're some way off the development, considering all the time Dorian devoted to it and only got himself half a system.

Avon thought that Zukan could take over the duties well enough. If that doesn't scream "dispensibility", what does?

I assume from the script that Zukan was meant to be a credible, high-profile and respected power-broker...

Youth of Australia said...

First to go of the current credited regular cast. Whew. (Yeah, I realised that right after I'd typed it)
Surely that was Slave?

Of course Vila's also on the ship, whom we know Avon considers fairly indispensible... unless he's on a shuttle with a radically decreasing orbit, of course..
True, but I doubt in Season 3 they would have saved Tarrant anyway.

Hmm, hadn't considered that. But the suggestion in the series seems to be that they're some way off the development, considering all the time Dorian devoted to it and only got himself half a system.
I was trying to make it truly depressing and pointless.

I assume from the script that Zukan was meant to be a credible, high-profile and respected power-broker...
With pink hair. And a pony tail. And shoulder pads. And a strange Kath and Kim accent ('soze are moi ticknishians'). And a drug fiend.

Yeah, there IS a slight discontinuity between Warlord and Blake about Zukan, now we come to think of it...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Surely that was Slave?

And what colour was HE?

True, but I doubt in Season 3 they would have saved Tarrant anyway.

Yeah, no arguments there.

Yeah, there IS a slight discontinuity between Warlord and Blake about Zukan, now we come to think of it...

Either the pink-haired drug dealer or Roj Blake. No-one else can lead them to glory!

Youth of Australia said...

And what colour was HE?
Green with black stripes?

Yeah, no arguments there.
"Oh look, Dayna, he's dying of hypothermia. I could get to like him like this..."

Either the pink-haired drug dealer or Roj Blake. No-one else can lead them to glory!
Yes, given that it feels a bit unfair Vila is turned down for the role, doesn't it?