The scarcity of any kind of science fiction on TV means that fans of the genre tend to be a bit more forgiving. Annoyingly, fans of science fiction also tend to be a bit more thoughtful than, say, fans of crufty and fluffy shows (think Greys Anatomy, or anything sold as reality TV). Consequently we’re a hard-done by lot – offered relatively poor quality plots and writing. All the more frustrating as science fiction in the written form is often impressively high quality by comparison.
The net result is that TV science fiction appears to be getting progressively worse, as we’re effectively encouraging studios to continue lowering the quality just by putting up with the stuff they deign to flog.
In very recent times we’ve seen some stinkers coming out of the USA – Continuum, Revolution, Defiance (early days on that one, but it’s not looking encouraging).
This is a post-apocalyptic story.
The apocalypse in this case was electricity ‘going out’.
And the post is fifteen or so years.
Within the first dozen episodes we have been (painfully) slowly advised that:
- fifteen years earlier the power went out
- some of the characters were involved and/or responsible for this
- this affects almost all sources of power, evidently globally
- there’s two bad people, one of whom has many followers despite clearly being a fucking lunatic
- some pendants exist that let localised power return
There’s myriad problems with what we’ve been told and what we’re shown.
We never see anything outside of the immediate vicinity of Philadelphia, where the show is based. Obviously there are lots of people – upwards of two billion I guess – who would be bimbling along just nicely without power, thank you very much. Just as they were bimbling along quite happily 15 years earlier without power.
That’s kind of expected. This is a story about a specific group of (mostly incompetent) people in a specific place. Cultures tend to not make TV shows about other cultures, especially if they’re a fairly insular culture that thinks they’re the best culture on the planet.
The opening voice-over is quite indulgent to the stereotypical insulated USA citizen on this front, though: ‘We lived in an electric world. We relied on it for everything. And then the power went out. Everything stopped working. We weren’t prepared.’
Anyway, some of the confusion about what we get told in the show is simple old-fashioned story-telling black magic – such as how power was disabled worldwide in one fell swoop, and what in turn powers the device or mechanism that has been selectively suppressing most other power sources for the past fifteen years.
A real turn on …
On the power front, there’s a battery of related questions and problems.
- Where does the power come from? Where does it go to?
- When power comes back on locally it’s not clear what supplies that power, given the problem is generally asserted to be one of power suppression. Obviously the power stations are all dead, batteries charged 15 years ago simply won’t have any juice left in them now. A small pendant can’t remotely power devices that were never designed to be powered remotely by pendants – mobile phones, cars, computers, helicopters, etc.
We see this happen one time with a mobile phone that the somewhat pathetic owner has managed to retain for 15 years, explaining that it contains the only photo of her two (long since dead) children. After some magic pendant power happens nearby she sees the photo come back. This happens on a device whose battery has long since lost any charge. Most of these people can’t manage to stay alive more than a few days, don’t seem to carry any food, bedding, maps, or other equipment with them – so the idea they have avoided a cracked screen, water damage, any kind of corrosion, or just managed to accidentally purchase a phone 16 years earlier that would still work fifteen years later, is quite the stretch.
- Why does this thing work, but that does not?
- There’s an amount of ghost in the machine stuff with any science fiction, almost by definition, but there is also a strong correlation between poor science fiction and excessive use of this mechanism.
Combustion is shown to work – we see conventional projectile weapons working fine, and burning fires, and a steam train is shown in one episode. However internal combustion engines don’t work. Conceivably the distinction is that 4-stroke and diesel engines require a wet cell battery to function, however 2-stroke engines do not. They use the same kind of spark that is used to light a fire or shoot a bullet. This disparity is never pondered upon by any of the characters.
As you watch the show you notice this kind of internal inconsistency popping up all over the place. It starts with poor writing, but ultimately reflects poorly upon the perceived intelligence of the viewer.
- She may not look like much
- The mid-season cliff-hanger had our bad guy cranking up a helicopter that hadn’t been flown in fifteen years.
This was facilitated by an untested amplifier that a few minutes earlier had been sitting in the lab, but in the time it took for our good guy gang to break out of the building had been relocated to the helicopter and the machine powered up.
It wasn’t clear exactly how this could happen. The thing had been sitting out in the weather for fifteen years. I have a tractor that I need to replace the fuel lines on from normal use and weathering at least every 5-10 years, and I’ve never left it fifteen years but I fully expect the fuel would evaporate, leak, go off, or simply become contaminated with water or fungus in that time.
Evidently it started first time, and was easily flown by someone who hadn’t flown in 15 years.
If you’re not going to eat that …
There’s no indication at all of what people are eating.
Most TV shows don’t deign to advise the viewer when the characters are performing their ablutions (though those that do, and manage to make a hilarious joke in the process are perhaps coincidentally some of the best science fiction), and it’s only slightly less rare that food is ever shown let alone consumed, but in a post-apocalyptic world like this some nod towards the practicalities would be in order.
It’s estimated that without industrial food production – ie. absent petroleum to make fertilisers, sow, harvest, and transport food – it takes about 15-20 hours of each person’s time per week to obtain their food. There’s a metric shedload of people wandering around and not actually producing anything in the various mini-societies we are shown. We never actually see the people who grow or produce stuff. It certainly aligns with the current US, and indeed the western, attitudes towards food production – something that is neither seen nor heard, it just magically happens – but it’s a glaring omission here.
People are able to ‘_walk a thousand miles to get here_’ without carrying anything to eat.
Even more surprising how this guy can still be a boombah after dropping his pizza and coke diet fifteen years earlier.
_**Dennis Nedry II**_
Poor jokes aside – albeit briefly – food consumption in a post-industrial world with a substantially smaller population would primarily be protein (they do hint at catching the occasional animal on their travels), supplemented by vegetables (where they can be grown locally), dried beans and maize (which can be stored and transported relatively easily). The last two can conceivably put weight onto you, but that would assume a lot of food combined with an especially sedentary lifestyle. There’s no explanation how this character, who claims that all his previous skills are worthless since the power went off, could be maintaining a sufficiently sedentary lifestyle, or eating a surplus of generally much healthier food than his implied pre-apocalyptic diet.
Anyway, it’s a non-trivial omission. Where they do show the occasional shot of something that may be considered an area that produces food (what we might call a farm) it’s somewhat stylised and impractical given the conditions the society is allegedly living under.
_**So who’s mowing this lawn?**_
This shot is from the third episode. (We actually see someone poring over a paper map in this episode, which was nice. The fact it was still in good condition after fifteen years of regular use .. less so. But it’s the thought that counts.)
But this scene just makes you ask – who the fuck has been mowing this driveway? And how? And why?
Maize would certainly be a popular crop, as mentioned, given it’s easy to grow, relatively easy to harvest, and stores supremely well, but without pesticides, fertilisers, and tractors, people would grow it the same way they did before 1900 – interspersed with pumpkin (squash) and climbing beans.
They wouldn’t plant all their seed in one go at the same time, as is shown here, either. It’d be impractical and unsafe to do so. Instead it’d be staggered, partly just because it’d take you a few weeks to prepare and plant out fields this size by hand, partly to minimise risk from freak weather and pest events, and partly to make it more convenient to harvest over a longer period at the other end of the process.
Yeah, sure, I’m picking on one scene from one episode, but only because there’s almost no other nods in the show to the otherwise intractable problem of what the hell are all these people eating.
Just trust me
On the practicality front, there’s a few other things that we’re left to bewilder ourselves with.
- They sure are some nice clothes you’ve got Mister
- Everyone – well, in particular the bad guys – seem to be tremendously well clothed. Nice boots, nicely polished, clean uniforms.
In the same way that there’s some invisible throng growing everyone’s food, there may be another throng that grows the various textile crops, and then makes and launders clothes without electricity. They are presumably flat out given the rate at which people are dying from swords being stuck through them. Apparently blood is a bastard to get out of cotton. Plus, you know, finding stitching thread that perfectly matches the fabric’s colour is tricky, even in the old E-Bay days.
- Why walk when you can walk?
- As mentioned, it’s a shame no one has yet thought to crank up a 2-stroke engine motorbike. But a few lucky people have horses. These horses look tremendously well groomed, which might be feasible (though it’s not clear who’s training these horses, and where). Less feasible is the shiny and remarkably new-looking saddles that they seem to have kept a stash of (or worked out how to make more of without power).
But on the transport front, apart from the one functional steam train (that everyone seemed to be very keen on blowing up - the fuckers) everyone else seems resolved to walk everywhere. This, despite the presence of lots of bike-friendly road infrastructure everywhere. And the relative ease of maintaining a bike compared to, say, a steam train, a range of weaponry, horses, harnesses and saddles, carriages, and so on.
But no. Bikes aren’t to be seen anywhere, despite everyone knowing they exist, and most people knowing how to ride one, and them having been with us for at least 150 years. We’re instead assured that without energy humans have no option but to walk. Perhaps the show is sponsored by Exxon.
I’ve noticed that there’s a direct correlation between how bad a TV show or movie is, and how often characters utter the phrase Listen to me before saying something. In the most dreadful shows they’ll pause, then very slowly and (in their minds, meaningfully, I’m sure) say Listen to me, and then even more slowly try to explain why something is important, often leaving out actually important information that the person they’re trying to persuade has directly asked for. This results in the second party getting understandably frustrated, but then overreacting in an inappropriate way, then doing something silly that results in someone getting captured or killed – ultimately because the first person is just shite at communicating and thinks that in an emergency the best thing they can do is to delay the transfer of knowledge while prefixing everything with the assertion that they should be listened to.
This show has that kind of shit going on in spades.
I’ve also noticed that there’s a direct correlation between how bad a TV show or movie is, and how often random characters that are introduced turn out to be fundamentally bad or evil. A corollary – any random person that’s introduced is likely to appear kind, thoughtful, sane, friendly, especially if they have a long history with one of the good guys. But .. no .. this won’t end well. There are no ambiguous characters, there are in fact no friendly characters. Our gang of goodies are the lone voices of sanity and goodness in the entire North American continent. And one of them is a mewling quim.
This show has that kind of shit going on in spades.
(Actually, there was a half-way decent character that popped up in episode 6 – Sex and Drugs . He was described by an obvious psychopath as being a bad guy, but if that wasn’t enough of a recommendation it quickly became apparent he actually was a force for good. The incompetent Charlie then kills him. The twat.)
As far as I can tell our primary female lead is this Charlie character, and she seems to spend 90% of each episode being a bit of a mewling quim, and 10% apologising for being a mewling quim. She alternates between trying to make other people around her feel guilty, and expressing feelings of guilt of her own. I’m sure that without power there’s lots of free evenings that could be spent working through this kind of deep emotional crap in front of the campfire with someone that cares – but this particular viewer simply doesn’t care.
The other characters only appear slightly less annoying by virtue of hanging around with Charlie. Most of them appear to be massively bewildered and eager to behave in inconsistent ways. While they are clearly reliant on each other for safety and company, they all seem to insist on keeping secrets from each other despite it being clear when each secret is later revealed that it was in fact a very bad policy to adopt.
But do they learn from this? The fuck they do. Nor have they apparently learned from the previous fifteen years of surviving in what apparently is a very brutal world. Each time the same mistake is repeated in much the same way.
There is a tiring predictability to this recurrent frustration.
Somewhere there is a very big warehouse. That’s the only explanation for where the hell this seemingly endless supply of ammunition is coming from. And the similarly endless supplies of safety razors, shoe laces, toilet paper, water bottles, makeup and so on. Either that or people are really polite after fifteen years of living without deodorant.
Why has the bad guy taken 15 years to show his hand?
Where are all the hairdressers hiding? Everyone seems surprisingly well coiffured. Except our archetypal fat hacker, natch.
And how has that stumbling idiot managed to not lose or break his glasses in fifteen years. Or even just since breakfast.