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Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe: Simon Barry’s Continuum

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Andrew Findlay

In Life After the Star Wars Expanded Universe, we take a look at science fiction and fantasy, why they’re great, and what they say about where our species has been and where it’s going.

A few years ago, everyone was bemoaning the loss of quality SF programming on television. Lost had delivered one of the most reviled endings of all time, Battlestar Galactica had wrapped up, the Sci-Fi Channel had just been bought out by Swedish media conglomerate Syfy, which for some reason thought Americans only cared about ghosts and those who hunt them. There was a bit of a dry spell there for a minute, but in the past couple of years TV producers have looked at the success of shows like Battlestar and Lost and threw SF into a lot of their primetime fare with a gleeful what-will-stick-to-the-wall type attitude. The majority of these shows are major flops (I do not know first hand, but I hear Extant is terrible), but in defense of the television executives, a lot does actually stick to the wall. One such show is Continuum.

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Pictured: the man in charge of all Syfy programming.

Its premise hooked me quick. In the year 2077, governments across North America have defaulted, and corporations bailed them out. State sovereignty no longer exists, and the North American Union is administered by a Corporate Congress, where the most powerful corporations run everything. So what’s different, you may ask. Fair enough. Today, if a corporation does not like an organization, they will take a senator out to a very nice lunch and talk to them about all the nice lunches and campaign contributions to come in the future if they sponsor legislation against the interests of said organization. In the future of Continuum, corporations own the police, which is now a private security force, and they would simply pay these security professionals to kill literally everyone involved in any way with this organization. Ah, the invisible and silenced gun of the free market! The show opens with the apprehension of the leaders of a terrorist organization that bombed the Corporate Congress and killed thousands of people. They are going to be mass-executed in a weird future electric-dais thingy, but when the machine activates, the terrorists throw a device into it. Kiera, our hero, is a cop guarding the detainees. She sprints towards the machine to see what’s going on, and then all people anywhere near it disappear in a massive blast. Kiera wakes up in Vancouver in 2012. All the terrorists went back in time as well, and she has to singlehandedly stop them, relying on nothing more than her pluck, determination, and highly advanced bio-implants and supersuit.

The show is hybrid organism, SF-time-travel tissue over a procedural cop drama endoskeleton. The presence of technology in the show is appealing. Kiera is sent back in time solo, but she has many implants (for example, a communications suite implanted directly into her brain/ears, and an eye implant that provides a super-soldier style HUD, can take fingerprints, record evidence, etc) and a standard-issue supercop suit, which is bulletproof in addition to giving her enhanced stamina and strength, cloaking abilities, and a built-in taser. Aside from this, and the advanced technology sometimes employed by the terrorists, most of the show stays in 2012 as far as equipment goes. The technology is central to the narrative, but it is non-intrusive. Kiera’s main weapon is not her suit, but her ability to insinuate herself into the Vancouver Police Department and use police strategies to track down her targets. The story definitely relies on the tropes of future-tech, but it’s not overused, nor is it ever the source of some goofy deus-ex-machina. Kiera herself is the center of the show – torn away from her family (a husband and a little boy), unable to get back, knowing that any change made by her or the terrorists could mean her son will never exist (like Back to the Future, but with less Chuck Berry and more complete isolation and existential terror). The show also does well by not simplifying the terrorists – sure, these are mass-murdering monsters, but the system they want to bring down is horrifying. Kiera wants to take them out to preserve her way of life, which her and many people in 2077 enjoy. Fine, woohoo, let’s root for Kiera! On the other hand, if you go into debt in that world, they implant you with a chip that turns you into a hindbrain-using meatpuppet building microchips in a dark factory forever, so the goals of the terrorists, if not their methods, are eminently understandable. There is a delicious complexity around this issue – as an audience member, do you root for the good person supporting a corrupt system, or for the bad people trying to take down that system?

The season one trailer, to get a basic feel for the actiony parts of the show

The most high-minded trope of the show is time travel. None of the big players fully understand how it works – they work under the assumption that present actions will change future consequences, but they don’t really know anything. The show draws a lot of water from this well, but it’s okay because the well is very deep. Some questions raised are how can the terrorists even know their actions will have the outcomes they want, how can Kiera ever return to her actual future now that her very presence in the past is changing it, and how, over the course of time, people become what they are. This last question is explored mainly through Alec Sadler, Kiera’s hacker buddy (no timewrecked futurecop ever goes long without finding a hacker friend). He meets Kiera because the rig he built in his parent’s barn can access her military-encoded communications chip. This is because he built that chip, or will build it – Alec Sadler is the CEO of the biggest corporation in the North American Union, which makes him de facto leader of the world. He is the one behind many of the evils of 2077, but in 2012, he’s just a shy, geeky tech dude. In a standard cop drama, seeing the hacker buddy becoming ever more competent, more self-confident, seeing him get the girl and outwit the competition, would be a positive thing. In Continuum, there is always an ominous shadow over his character development, as it is taking him ever closer to becoming basically King Bowser.

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Pictured: Alec Sadler. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. Of course, in the future, he feeds them with the blood of his enemies, so.

The show uses some tired cop-drama tropes, but it is concept-driven, entertaining, and while it’s not quite as cerebral as Primer, it explores the intricacies and implications of time travel with honesty and detail. You should watch it, and the following five words are the most convincing part of my (or really anyone’s) argument to watch Continuum (or really any show): every episode is on Netflix.

Andrew Findlay has strong opinions about things (mostly literature) and will share them with you loudly and confidently. You can email him at afindlay.recess@gmail.com.

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An Obama Campaign Worker Watched the Documentary Mitt. Should You See it?

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Alex Marino

In our rarely-running kinda-series Should You See It? we talk about movies that just came out. You can figure out the rest of the premise from the title of the series. That’s right: we talk recipes. Should you see the new doc about Mitt Romney?

Given that all my other pieces here are about yelling at kids to get off my lawn, I could understand the belief that I spend my days sitting on a porch in a lawn chair being grumpy at the world.  But before all that I worked for the Obama campaign doing data work in North Carolina for all of 2012. It was exhausting and exciting and unhealthy and incredible all at the same time. Like so many of my colleagues, once everything was over and I actually had an ounce of free time I decided to occupy it with reading as much as I could about the election. I’ve read almost every book that’s been written about the campaign. Hell I was reading short e-books about the campaign during the campaign. It was always interesting to see what journalists got right (that we used data incredibly well) and what they were completely clueless about (how we used that data). I had read so much that by the time the highly-anticipated sequel to Game Change called Double Down came out there really wasn’t a whole lot of never-before-seen content. I finished it craving an account that actually understood what we did or at least brought a fresh perspective to the race. But I never thought that a documentary about the guy I worked to beat would be that account.

Mitt isn’t about the inside politics of a national campaign. It’s not about the internal struggles or the war room drama. You don’t see Paul Ryan until 70 minutes in. You don’t see the campaign manager until 80 minutes in. It’s the story of a man and his family on the campaign trail since 2007.

When you work on a political campaign it’s easy to lose perspective on how you view your opponent. For so long I held this belief that Romney was completely out of touch with working-class Americans. And while Mitt didn’t show any evidence that directly refutes that belief, there was a really touching scene where he talks about his father, former Governor of Michigan and candidate for president George Romney. He was showing the notes he took while on stage at the first debate. At the top of the first sheet was “DAD”.  He went on to explain:

“I always think about dad and about [how] I’m standing on his shoulders… There’s no way I’d be running for president if dad hadn’t done what dad did. He’s the real deal. The guy was born in Mexico. He didn’t have a college degree. He became the head of a car company and became a governor. It would have never entered my mind to be in politics.  How can you go from his beginnings to think ‘I could be head of a car company. I can run for governor. I can run for president.’ That gap. For me, I started where he ended up. I started off with money and education and Harvard Business School and Harvard Law School. For me, it’s moving that far. (moves his hands, palms facing each other, slightly apart) For him it was like that. (moves hands considerably apart)

Even after the first debate I felt so confident that Obama was going to win that I couldn’t imagine the conversations going on at Romney HQ. I thought they had to be living in some strange bubble where only good news gets passed along. But after the first and second debates it was Romney who was even-handed. He knew he did well in the first debate and he knew he didn’t do as well in the second. This was in the face of his family being excessively supportive (as they should be). Even on election night as everyone else is trying to find ways to hold on to the belief that he can win, Mitt is well aware that it’s over and seems remarkably relaxed.

I remember feeling so strongly that Mitt was this out of touch rich guy.  His life consisted of car elevators and dressage horses! I never once thought that those things helped make his wife’s life a little easier as she dealt with multiple sclerosis. And while those things may seem excessive, if you were as rich as the Romneys wouldn’t you do everything in your power to make coping with a disease like MS easier?

But while Mitt did such a better job than the campaign in making the candidate seem human, there were many puzzling things the film revealed how informed Romney was about the state of the race. In the last few weeks of the race he saw huge crowds everywhere he went. I understand how he could feel like things were on an upswing. But a look at the numbers would have quickly brought him back down to Earth. During election night Ann mentioned that they were hoping to win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Polling just before election day never showed any of those states as even being close. The fact that the candidate and his wife weren’t aware of their path to victory is baffling to me. They got most of their return information from external news sources rather than their internal analytics team. But was he actually not briefed on these things or did the documentary just not show any of that?

The scene that hit me the most took place the day after election day at Romney HQ in Boston. After he and his campaign manager each spoke, you saw the tears of sadness streaming down the faces of his staff. Most people don’t understand what’s in those tears.  For so many of us this race meant moving across the country, barely seeing friends and family, putting off school for a year, relationships collapsing under the stress of the campaign, 3:30 a.m. wake up times, 10:00 p.m. checkout calls, 11:00 p.m. dinners, and more takeout than you can imagine. It was our entire life and to not have it all end with a victory is nothing short of devastating. I was lucky to be on the winning side that was filled with tears of happiness on election night.  I can’t imagine how I would have felt had the results been different.

Should You See It? If you have Netflix make sure to watch Mitt. If you don’t have Netflix what the fuck is wrong with you; are you 90? Because while it’s easy to get caught up in the passions of a long political campaign and view your opponents as enemy robots seeking to destroy your entire existence, it’s healthy to remember they’re people too, from the field intern all the way up to the candidate.

Image source: ABC