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Daniels Ex Machina

I should have known better. The last time I was on here (a month ago?!?!? It seems a lot shorter than that!), I did some complaining about the long-cancelled TV show Enterprise (because, hey, I’m up on the latest entertainment […]
| Jun 5, 2013 | No comments |

I should have known better.

The last time I was on here (a month ago?!?!? It seems a lot shorter than that!), I did some complaining about the long-cancelled TV show Enterprise (because, hey, I’m up on the latest entertainment options). In that column, I rehashed my disappointment with the show, specifically about how they seemed to rehash a lot of the same tired old tropes from previous Star Trek incarnations. The worst of these tropes was time travel, as embodied by the temporal cold war that Archer and company found themselves in. It was this nonsensical garbage that caused me to stop watching the show in its original run a few episodes into the third season.

In the comments, Adam Collings had this to say:

Unfortunately, you gave up on the show just when it got awesome. Seasons 3 and 4 were very good in my opinion, and I was very disappointed when it didn’t get renewed for season 5.

I was skeptical, Adam. So far, what I had seen only confirmed my prior judgment of this show.

Then I got into the heart of the Xindi episodes of season three and I realized what a mistake I had made. I should have remembered: every Star Trek show stinks in the first couple of seasons. It takes a while for them to find their footing, figure out the crew dynamics, and tell some awesome stories. Next Gen‘s first two seasons were abysmal, but once Captain Picard got assimilated, it really took off. Deep Space Nine only mentioned the Dominion once up until the end of season two, but they went on to tell some powerful stories in the final seasons. And the same can be said for Voyager, especially after they realized what a snooze Kes was.

I now am over half-way through season four and approaching the end point and, after each episode, I keep thinking, “Now this . . . this is what I wanted!” Give me the political machinations of the corrupt Vulcan high command! Give me the diplomatic wranglings that bring the Andorians and the Tellarites together. Keep the Romulans skulking in the shadows, plotting to overthrow the whole region. That’s what I want from a Star Trek prequel!

And really, the Xindi episodes were pretty great too! Once they started looking into the origin of the spheres which warped space around them, I was hooked. I had to know how the spheres and the Xindi were connected. I had to know!

Until this guy came along again:

daniels

Watch, Captain, as I singlehandedly destroy your show’s lucrative potential!

Ah, Crewman Daniels. Popping into the Xindi plot to give Archer all sorts of information about his future. Every time Archer seemed ready to do something dramatic, there was Daniels to muck it up again. But this time around, I figured out why Daniels bugs me so much. He’s a deus ex machina. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, deus ex machina a person or item that’s suddenly introduced into a story, usually towards the story’s end, that conveniently resolves everything in a neat and tidy way.

And that’s precisely what Daniels is. For example, in one episode, Daniels yanks Archer into the future, to the Enterprise-J, and hands him an item that should help him resolve the entire conflict. In other, Archer is considering a kamikaze run to destroy the Xindi superweapon. Once agian, Daniels pulls him into the future to show him the founding of the Federation, once again trying to help him keep on the right path.

To put it bluntly, Daniels and the time travel nonsense in Enterprise is a cheat, evidence of lazy writing. It’s a way to fix a sticky issue in a story without a lot of thought or effort. There’s a reason why deus ex machinas are derided and have been for many, many years.

But it hasn’t always been that way. And it still isn’t in some circles today.

That’s where I’m going to leave things this time around. Next time, we’ll take a look at where the whole deus ex machina concept comes from, and then, after that, we’ll see how this might apply to Christian speculative fiction. Until then, I’m curious to know: Have you ever seen an example of deus ex machina in a movie, book, or TV show? How well did it work?

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Kessie Carroll
Member
Kessie Carroll

Yep. Any Christian book in which God is a character is always resolved by deux ex machina. It drives me crazy, and I’ve sworn off those kinds of books. It comes down the joke about Frodo summoning the Eagles from chapter 2 and dropping the Ring into Mount Doom. Book averted! If God is a character, why does this book exist? There’s no tension because God will just bail them out anyway.

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

If God is a character, why does this book exist?  There’s no tension because God will just bail them out anyway.

 
Wow, you’ve got an interesting perspective, Kessie.  Never thought about this.  Suppose the God-figure in a speculative novel was like the true God: not bailing characters out but working through the plot to bring them to greater trust and greater goodness?  I’m thinking of Aslan from Prince Caspian here (the book, not the movie): he guides the children and the dwarf along the right route, but they all must trust that he’s actually there before they’ll get out of their scrape.  Does that make sense?  Do you think a story can have a God-figure without falling back on deus ex machina?
Yeah, if the eagles were at the characters’ beck and call, you’d have no epic story!  And no character growth either!
Blessings,
Literaturelady

Kessie Carroll
Member

I’m thinking of the Reality series by Copple and Prophet by Larson. Huge amounts of deus ex machina, to the point where it ruined the books for me.

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

Okay, that makes sense.  I admit, I feel the same way about certain fairy tales when the main character gets a box or special help from a magical creature that enables him to meet the king’s demands and win the princess.  Can’t he struggle through on his own for once?  And maybe get some depth to him?  (I do like fairy tales, but I get tired of that sort).
 
Anyway, thanks for replying, and I’m going to keep in mind your point about constant bail-outs!
 
Blessings,
Literaturelady

Kirsty
Guest

Might it depend on whether God is actually a genuine character or simply a tool.

Literaturelady
Guest
Literaturelady

I think you’re right, Kirsty.  I’m going to keep that in mind as well!
 
Blessings,
Literaturelady

R. L. Copple
Member

Whether God can be a character in a story or not and avoid deux ex machina requires a set of rules God in the story operates by, and the knowledge that He isn’t going to get them out of every scrape. But even when it does fall into deux ex machina territory, often the plot and conflict revolves more around the character arc whereas what happens in the story is more of external motivations for that character growth.
 
The problem with a story using God, even with rules, is you usually can’t get into the mind of God in the story…at least most authors are reluctant to go to that POV for good reason…so the reader must deduce what those rules are. Frequently, that isn’t always obvious unless someone is looking for it, and so it can appear God arbitrarily intervenes when that isn’t the case.
 
I have more to say about Enterprise, but I’m out of time. Got to work!
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

God being a “character” doesn’t ruin the story. After all, He’s a “character” (really the Hero) in reality, and our stories are certainly fraught with tension and suffering and great plot twists almost all the time. The conflict comes not from knowing if He will win — that much is assured — but how He will win. And in fact the greatest dramatic tension of reality comes from the question: How can God demonstrate His mercy and love to rebellious sinners without also failing to vindicate His holiness? Of course the resolution is found in Christ’s life, sacrificial death and resurrection.

R. L. Copple
Member

On Enterprise, I recently started watching those, alongside the original series and Voyager. I’m most of the way through the first season of Enterprise, and fifth of Voyager.
 
The stories on Enterprise are decent. Some fun, which is what I like.  I really don’t care for gritty so much. One reason I didn’t get into soap opera style Battlestar Galactica. Miss an episode and you’re out of the story loop.
 
But I noticed an important difference from Enterprise and the other Treks: interesting and “original” (for the series) characters. TOS: Spock and the interplay between him, Kirk and McCoy. STNG: Data, and to some extent Wesley. DSN: Shape shifter. Voyager: EMH Doctor.  STE: ? Another alien for a doctor and another Vulcan science officer? Not much original.
 
This isn’t to say there aren’t other interesting characters on each of these shows, with some little twist thrown in. But that I can identify at least one, “not done yet” character and its arc in every series except for Enterprise shows a lacking “wow” factor. Certainly this doesn’t preclude great stories and character development. Being a prequel had something to do with it. They weren’t as free to come up with new things that didn’t exist in the other shows. That said, the lack of an original, interesting character to explore and react off of limited their appeal, something ST had become known for. An emotionless Vulcan was original on the classic series. By Enterprise, it was old hat and hard for watchers to connect with them as characters. And/or perhaps because Spock is the only one that pulled off a likeable Vulcan.
 
One other character issue. Capt. Archer sounds wooden in his acting at times. Like someone reading their lines, trying to force a drama into them. Out of the captains, he comes across the least captain like of them.
 
But I agree, it sounds like the Daniel thing was a killer.  May be why the series ended. Shows they were getting desperate for story plots and after that, where do you go with it? Season One had one time traveler visit them, but he died. I think while the prequel thing was a good idea, it limited them story plot wise. Think how many episodes of other series centered around holodecks, transporter malfunctions, other technology issues, as well as exploring those unique character arcs (Data’s attempts to become human, for instance). All of that is gone, unless they time-warp it in. Though I can see their transporter playing a bigger role, even if they are hesitant to use it on humans. So far it has operated without a problem. Doing better than TOS did.
 
Two unrelated points on Star Trek. One, I watched the Good/Evil Kirk Sulu and company freeze on the planet because the transporter isn’t working. They never explained why they didn’t send a shuttle craft. But I think I know the answer. They hadn’t added that yet (4th show, 1st season), and their budget didn’t allow for an expensive shuttle craft landing. lol. Even though in Enterprise prequil, that is the standard way to get from ship to planet.
 
Two, on Voyager, if they are so dang eager to get home, why at the beginning and ending of most episodes does it show them lollygagging around the Delta quadrant on impulse power? Wouldn’t they be at warp every chance they get?
 

Paul Lee
Member

The stories on Enterprise are decent. Some fun, which is what I like.  I really don’t care for gritty so much. One reason I didn’t get into soap opera style Battlestar Galactica. Miss an episode and you’re out of the story loop.

Just curious, have you seen Babylon 5?  They say it was ground-breaking in that it was the first space opera to be tightly plotted, with a pre-planned storyline.  It’s probably even more tightly plotted than Battlestar Galactica, but it doesn’t have nearly as much soap opera stuff.

One, I watched the Good/Evil Kirk Sulu and company freeze on the planet because the transporter isn’t working. They never explained why they didn’t send a shuttle craft. But I think I know the answer. They hadn’t added that yet (4th show, 1st season), and their budget didn’t allow for an expensive shuttle craft landing.

Hey, I recently watched that episode too.  I agree, they didn’t have much of a handle on the worldbuilding at that point.  I don’t think the writers had even come up with the concept of the Federation at that time.

R. L. Copple
Member

Just curious, have you seen Babylon 5?
 
I watched the early episodes. That was about the time life circumstances caused me to stop watching most of those shows. I never finished DS9, Voyager, or watched much of Enterprise.  One of the reasons I’m watching them now.
 
What I watched of B5, I enjoyed, but for some reason it never hooked me as much. But assuming it is on Amazon Prime, I’m planning on going back to it. Easier to see a story line when you can watch them in order at your own pace, instead of when the networks demand…or forgetting to record it as it was back in the 90s.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Perhaps the best Enterprise was the two-parter in which the bizarrely charismatic quasi-cult leader (Peter Weller) threatens Earth with retaliation for joining up with the aliens. His white-supremacist-style rhetoric and complete conviction in his own evil cause was already provoking enough, but even more so when viewers saw the ethnically diverse crowd of his supporters exhibiting “racism” against non-Earthlings.

Galadriel
Guest

One of the things that has to be taken into account in speculative fiction is the distinction between de exus machina and the “rules of the show”– for example,  part one of the Season Five Doctor Who finale
SPOILERS  ends with the Doctor trapped in the Pandorica.  
He escapes with his own sonic screwdriver, which his future self gave to Rory SPOILERS
Now, you can argue about the effects of crossing his own time stream, but A. He’s done it before, and B…the universe is about to blow up anyway. It’s even lampshaded:

“Vortex manipulator, cheap and nasty time travel, very bad for you, trying to give it up.”