Skip to main content

The Federation is run by hypocrites and supported by fools.


Blake's 7
2.6: Trial


In some respects Trial follows Pressure Point’s precedent in juggling some very good material with rather less masterful moments. I found Trial more satisfying, though, perhaps partly because Chris Boucher opens the book on the Federation’s workings so intriguingly. Even Brian Croucher manages to be watchable for the most part. The Liberator crew doesn’t fare quite so well, although Blake’s bizarre planetary sojourn forms the backdrop to Avon voicing a barrage of caustic truths.


This episode features a decidedly svelte Kevin Lloyd (Tosh from The Bill) as Trooper Par, who reminded me a little of Maurice Roeves. Boucher letting us eavesdrop on a couple of Federation troopers (guarding the trial room where Travis will stand accused) is something  Douglas Adams would be taking the piss out of at about the same time in Hitchhiker’s. Adams highlighted the role of the bored grunt as something that sci-fi never bothers with, so it’s quite interesting that Boucher decides to take a fly on the wall approach to your average Federation guard (J M Straczynski did something similar in an episode of Babylon 5, quite possibly inspired by Blake’s 7).


It’s a nice bit of seamless continuity to have the return of Senator Bercol and Secretary Rontane from Seek-Locate-Destroy. Peter Miles is as watchable as ever, and his commentary on Servalan’s increasing power and acute understanding of her motivations is a welcome shift from the somewhat limited (and warped) perspective that spending all our time with Servalan and Travis has provided.  There’s an air of blithe indifference to his observations that makes him a very recognisably timeless politician. 


John Savident makes a big impression as Fleet-Warden General Samor, the chief arbiter in the trial; he’s probably better known in B7 for playing Egrorian in Orbit (also the Squire in The Visitation and the explosive auctioneer in Hudson Hawk). Tosh refers to him as “old Starkiller”.


 Boucher often constructs his stories with an emphasis on misdirection from scene to scene. Here he shows a conversation between Servalan and Major Thania, where they are plotting the inevitable guilty verdict against Travis, only to have Tania revealed as Travis’ defence counsel a scene later. Speaking of Travis, Croucher can’t even march properly. Unless he’s consciously trying to do a Ministry of Silly Walks. He’s accused of ordering the massacre of 1,400 unarmed civilians on Circasta, which is a not insignificant charge.


As frequently seems to be the case in B7, the set is a minimalistic white, which maybe a cheap option, but here the austerity works very effectively. Travis is tried at Servalan’s Space Command headquarters, enabling the re-employment of budget-saving model work (although maybe it’s all new, as they have to damage it later in the episode).  There’s further continuity to Season One with a computer deciding the accused’s guilt (the judges only decide the penalty).


 Avon really relishes being able to rub Blake’s nose in his errors, and you can’t help agreeing with his barbs. Blake’s intent on sitting on an uninhabited planet, moping; Avon warns him that his three remaining followers might come after him. Blake suggests they might listen to Avon.


 Avon: Why not. I don’t get them killed.
Blake: True.


Jenna’s all decked out in leather this episode; it’s about time. Which leads me to wonder. Why, in such a state of abject despair, did Blake feel inclined to get a haircut?


Jenna: It’s getting worse for him.
Avon: Guilt does that.
Jenna: What would you know about guilt?
Avon: Only what I’ve read.

At bit more of pure Avon-snark:

Vila: I wish Gan was here.
Avon: Oh yes, of course. He would be able to work out exactly what was going on.


And his sudden chumminess with Vila, attempting to persuade him of the appeal of being wealthy as opposed to fighting the Federation, is a rare moment of camaraderie with the lock picker. 


His cynicism about the message left by Blake seems entirely reasonable (leaving it to the crew to consider, as will Blake, where they stand with each other and what they wish to do; if they still wish to, they can pick him up in 13 hours). Certainly, Blake doesn’t outright deny it when he and Avon discuss this point at the end of the episode.

Vila: He really cares about us.
Avon: You swallowed that?
Cally: You think he was lying?
Avon: Everything but the self-pity . That was real enough.

Peter Miles gives us our first insight into how far Servalan’s grasp stretches;

Rontane: Servalan’s ambitions threaten us all. And the President particularly dislikes being threatened.

Particularly amusing is the switch in his conversation with Bercol, without a beat, to “Shall we dine?” Indeed, the dialogue throughout this episode is particularly choice. Well, apart from bloody Pob down on the planet.


Travis is given such a good role in this episode that even Croucher can’t completely ruin it. Thania’s attempt to suss out the Space Commander’s behaviour (although I’m unclear exactly what she’s trying to achieve by giving him alcohol – whether he’s drugging himself seems to be shooting herself in the foot) sees him one step ahead of the viewer. Par appears to commiserate with Travis and in the following scene we realise that he has been put up to the task by Thania. Thania quizzes Par on Travis’ accountability.

Par: No doubt. He gave the order, we just did the shooting.

That certainly sounds like a concentration camp guard’s defence, and Travis follows that line of reasoning in his later defence; the system made him what he is, so the system is to blame if he is. 


Travis’ splenetic dismissal of Thania when she goes to speak to him is particularly strong. I’d rather not have to damn Croucher with faint praise, but he’s really got Boucher’s script massively on his side here.


 Zil... Certainly credit is due for a fully-formed loony bird creation. The body stocking probably wasn’t the best way to sell an alien life form, though. I’d hesitate to say it undermines the episode, because it’s just such a bizarre plotline (the planet being alive echoes Solaris, and predates the asteroid creature in The Empire Strikes Back, but the execution is many leagues less effective than either).


There’s a clumsy attempt by Blake to parallel the behaviour of the parasitic life form to rebellion against the Federation at the end, but the analogy doesn’t really stick. Indeed, Blake’s worst moment in the episode is his “I am not ready to surrender anything” after Zil is absorbed, as if he has come to some sort of glib Hollywood realisation.


 Avon doesn’t actually tell us why he is the first of the crew to actively decide to stick with Blake, to the extent that he starts searching for the homing beacon. He insists that continuing to follow Blake is not quite the same thing as letting him lead. Jenna asks him why he’s not searching the southern hemisphere.

Avon: I don’t believe Blake can think and swim at the same time. It’s nothing but ocean down there.


Blake’s return to the ship sees a top class conversation between him and Avon. The former says that the next time he wants to think he’ll stick to his cabin. Avon tells him he should stick to action, that’s what he’s good at, before advising that at some point the crew will leave him, as they were almost ready to this time.


Blake: Yes, I thought they might be.
Avon: You handle them very skilfully.
Blake: Do I?
Avon: But one more death will do it.


Croucher slumped in his chair with his legs outstretched shows an amusing attitude to the court proceedings. But Croucher being Croucher, his big moment of accusing the court of guilt lacks the punch it should; Travis just seems like a ranting child, rather than there being any power to his words. It does the trick in ruffling Servalan, who did not expect him to take the floor, but the tribunal’s verdict still voices moral repulsion at his behaviour (his actions are those of a savage, unthinking animal). Which, again, suggests a system not as overtly corrupt as Blake would like to make out.


The Liberator’s attack on the space station is dramatically effective, if reliant on some rather less likely and inconsistent behaviour from the crew, swiftly on board with another death-defying mission at the direction of Blake. And Avon’s Federation ship detection-evasion is a highly fortuitous rabbit-out-of-a-hat development. What saves this is that it continues Blake’s cock-ups, as he is instrumental in saving Travis from the gallows.


Travis’ parting shot to the court makes you really wish it was Greif in the role.

Travis: The Federation is run by hypocrites and supported by fools. I’m glad to be rid of you all.


His confrontation with Servalan amidst the confusion of the attack, where she still attempts to gain the upper hand (he demands a ship and she provides one with a complement of Mutoids, in order to track down Blake), sees him spit that he’s not going to let her use him anymore. Good luck with that, Travis...


Which leads to the laugh-about final scene. Avon and Blake laughing together at what an idiot Vila is has an undercurrent that seems unintentional. Because you don’t believe Avon is doing anything but acting for his own purposes, and that Blake is willing to do anything to buy favours with his bad lieutenant.

Avon: It’s not often one comes across a philosophical flea.
Blake: “Resist the host or your oneness will be absorbed.”
Vila: That’s the stuff legends are made of.
Avon: Then again, perhaps they are not so uncommon.

Well, then, it’s good to know Blake got over Gan so quickly!


Confidently directed by Derek Martinus, and tightly scripted by Boucher, even the less successful elements (Pob, Croucherisms) don’t dent the continuing arc of the season. This and Pressure Point are the equivalent of the mid-season two-parter, I suppose, an idea that would become de rigueur in ‘90s US sci-fi/fantasy US TV and then filter back into British TV. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983)
(SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. That doesn’t mea…

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989)
(SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch, or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins. Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon. 

It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy (Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Big Lebowski, “got it” on fi…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

You can’t keep the whole world in the dark about what’s going on. Once they know that a five-mile hunk of rock is going to hit the world at 30,000 miles per hour, the people will want to know what the hell we intend to do about it.

Meteor (1979)
(SPOILERS) In which we find Sean Connery – or his agent, whom he got rid of subsequent to this and Cuba – showing how completely out of touch he was by the late 1970s. Hence hitching his cart to the moribund disaster movie genre just as movie entertainment was being rewritten and stolen from under him. He wasn’t alone, of course – pal Michael Caine would appear in both The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure during this period – but Meteor’s lack of commercial appeal was only accentuated by how functional and charmless its star is in it. Some have cited Meteor as the worst movie of his career (Christopher Bray in his book on the actor), but its sin is not one of being outright terrible, rather of being terminally dull.

You’re a regular little CIA all on your own, aren’t you?

The Internecine Project (1974)
(SPOILERS) I underrated Ken Hughes’ sharp little spy thriller last time I saw it; probably, the quality of the battered, pan-and-scanned print didn’t help any. In pristine form, The Internecine Project – I think it’s a great title, in contrast to Glenn Erickson’s appraisal – reveals itself as commendably oddball and unlikely, but also politically shrewd picture, if in a manner that is anything but heavy-handed. Plus, it has James Coburn, being magnificently James Coburn about everything.

Well, it seems our Mr Steed is not such an efficient watchdog after all.

The Avengers 2.7: The Decapod
A title suggesting some variety of monstrous aquatic threat for Steed and Julie Stevens’ Venus Smith. Alas, the reality is much more mundane. The Decapod refers to a Mongo-esque masked wrestler, one who doesn’t even announce “I will destroy you!” at the top of his lungs. Still, there’s always Philip “Solon” Madoc looking very shifty to pass the time.

Madoc is Stepan, a Republic of the Balkans embassy official and the brother-in-law of President Yakob Borb (Paul Stassino). There’s no love lost between him and his ladies’ man bro, and dark deeds are taking place with the embassy confines, but who is responsible proves elusive. Steed is called in, or rather calls Venus in as a replacement, when Borb’s private secretary is murdered by Mongo. Steed isn’t buying that she slipped and broke her neck in the shower; “I shouldn’t like a similar accident to happen to you” he informs the President.

The trail leads to wrestling bouts at the public baths, where the Butcher…