Friday, October 16, 2009

Television: The Universe and You

Every "universe", whether it's the real one we're living in, or one made up for fiction, has its own set of rules. You can comfortably sink into a story and let it sweep you away, because you know how it's supposed to work and you don't need to spend brain power trying to determine how it's possible. This is why, especially in television shows where the universe is a little bit different, it's important to establish those rules right away, and STICK to them.

Joss Whedon, I may be talking to YOU here.

An interesting point was brought up this past week, while discussing the latest episode of Dollhouse called "Belle Chose". As fans, we can take the concept of vampires, esteemed geishas, people with programmed personalities and run with them. But screw with something like a GPS locator, and we flip.

I think it comes down to the established rules in the show's mythos, established “rules” in the real world, and where they clash… with a bit of liberty thrown in for expedience of telling a story.

If the rules for raising a demon, or whatever made-up procedure, are already established, and then the show breaks those rules simply to provide a plot point, people are going to cry BS. I think the problem with the tech in Dollhouse is that there are viewers who KNOW how GPS works, know how computers work, know how data streaming over wireless networks works, etc. The main objective of all this tech, wiping people’s brains, may be made up… but they’re wrapping it in familiar technology and trying to treat the familiar with the same cavalier attitude they used with the “mystical technology” of Joss’ previous shows.

Unfortunately, people are too familiar with real-world tech to be able to get away with it. And if I’m able to spot little holes like these, I can’t imagine how crazy it must make, say, someone who went to MIT.

Can we send Joss to ITT tech? I mean, seriously.

I remember an episode of Angel (maybe) where someone spilled a cup of coffee on a computer keyboard. This somehow magically caused sparks to fly from the CPU, and if I'm remembering correctly, tripped the breaker, plunging the hotel into darkness.

No. Just... no.

I think that it's extremely telling that while I can remember that incident with clarity, I can't remember what the episode was about. I can't even say for sure it was Angel, it may have been Buffy, although I doubt it. The reason I remember it so clearly? It totally slammed me out of the story. I couldn't think of anything after that but the gaffe.

I was reminded of all this quite vividly with this crap about a missing GPS strip from Victor. I realize this was all a setup so that Topher would have a reason to attempt something as potentially dangerous as a remote mind-wipe. I realize that attempting this is one step on the road that leads us to the events of the unaired episode, "Epitaph One" (viewable on the DVD set or for a fee from Amazon Unbox) I really get that.

But unfortunately, if you use real-world tech, you have to abide by real-world rules. If you have giga-quads of data LIVE streaming from an active in the form of heartrate, respiration, and brainwave patterns, then these actives have some form of tech still in their bodies. You can't tell me that someone, somehow, FORGOT to add the GPS locator, but added back all the other tech. And if it was removed for dermal reconstruction of Victor's face (which is doubtful in itself) then the rest would have needed to be removed also. Which it obviously wasn't. And you can't tell me that it's not possible to somehow stream all that biological information without being able to tell where it's coming from.

If the cops in '95 can track a cell phone making a call to within one city block on "Without a Trace", then Topher and his magical mystery machines can track down an active, with or without a damn "GPS strip" as long as they're still receiving data.

That's my TV gripe of the week.


  1. I have yet to watch a half an episode of "Dollhouse" and I'm itching to type, "I totally agree."

    Your post is about television, but as you know, this extends to forms genre entertainment. Just because I enjoy an alternate, fantastical or otherworldly setting, doesn't mean I'll accept illogical leaps in plot, or breaking of established rules. It's insulting!

    I remember having a debate about a minor plot point in an X-men movie in front of a friend and at the end she looked at us and said, "Well, it is a movie about made up superpowers." However, if you were to take a sweet-as-pie heroine in a love story and made her do something slutty and out-of-character in a scene, there would be cries of outrage. For some reason, a sci-fi fan is supposed to accept everything given to us.

    The creators of imaginative fare are supposed to be on the fans' side, they're supposed to pay attention to the minor details. If your vampires can walk during the day, they'd better not be exploding during daybreak without a darn, good reason. Not just one thrown in to conveniently move the story forward.

    Those are the details that made Terminator fans crazy when they saw "Salvation".

  2. Exactly. Just because we like stories about vampires, or guys who can shoot laser beams out of their eyes, doesn't mean that we'll just swallow every trumped-up plot device imaginable.

    For instance, in the show "True Blood" it's been established that the shapeshifter can't take a form unless he sees it first (in the book, the rule is even more strict, in that he has to see it every time he shifts... there was a great deal made about the fact that he leaves a book open on his coffee table on a picture of a collie) Then later in the show in season two, we see him change into a form that A) we've never seen him research, look at, or see EVER (and it's unusual enough that it's not just running around on the landscape) and B) he's under extreme duress at the time of his supposed change... like, torturous agony.

    I have a problem with this.

    And like you said, it's not that it's a shapeshifter and that makes it somehow inherently unbelievable. The problem is if you establish how it works in season one, or a previous episode anywhere down the line, you can't just change your mind later without some kind of explaination.

    Throw in a mystical whoozit that changes the rules when it's around like a necklace, or some herb, or something. Or in the case of the GPS strip, have it malfunction, or something plausible.

    We may like stories about fantastical things, but that doesn't mean we're *gullible*.

  3. If anything if we fit into the "type" of person who loves sci-fi/horror/tech, whatever, we pay even more attention to the small things like a malfunctioning GPS strip!

    Ah, so the collie was the hot bartender who shapeshifted into that weird creature with no explanation. I kinda watched the first part of season 1. :)

  4. Um, not quite right on the shapeshifter. We'll have to take this part of the discussion off-blog 'cause I'm trying real hard not to spoil things for people. But OMG is he not drool-able?

    But yes, geek fans are going to be those people obsessed with details. After almost 50 years of Trek, you'd think they'd realize it by now. :D