The Cliffs of Insanity: The Year of Geeky Television

Person of Interest, Season 4, image via CBS

Welcome to the new year’s adventures in climbing the cliffs of insanity. After celebrating a quiet Christmas and then New Year’s Day by stuffing myself and my family on an outing to the Cheesecake Factory, I’m ready to start looking at 2015 with fresh eyes.

Here’s hoping for more. More women in comics on the cover and on the creative teams. More women acting, producing, and writing television shows and movies. More women in gaming, period. Or, on the last, I’d settle for a realization that women in gaming already exist.

In examining many of the 2014 “best of” lists, it’s clear that 2014 was a great year for geeky entertainment.

At the movies, Marvel cinematic universe continued to rule, and we also had The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, and Maleficent.

But my assessment of geeky television show is more mixed than most. I’ve talked about the issues I’ve had with the last two seasons of Arrow and the flaws in the first season The Flash. Gotham is crazy entertaining at time but not brilliant television. Doctor Who had a subpar season. Only Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. improved over last year’s lackluster start, especially with its excellent second season. Still, there are also stalwarts such as Supernatural and promising newcomers like The Librarians.

But none of these beat my pick for 2014’s best science fiction show.

The Best SF Show on Television? The One Nobody’s Talking About.

Person of Interest.

Not into science fiction? It’s as much SF as the Terminator franchise. (Warning: minor spoilers below.)

It details the adventures of a Dr. Frankenstein (Finch) who’s created his monster, the super-powerful computer, the Machine, but also attempted to imbue humanity into his artificial “son.” For the first three seasons, the stories focused on uncovering the secrets of the Machine and using its excess numbers (people in trouble but not relevant to national security) to make the world a better place. All the while, Reese grew from a disillusioned, traumatized black ops professional to a trustworthy friend to Finch. They helped NYPD Lt. Joss Carter and Det. Fusco in their fight against police corruption.

But the third season kicked over the chessboard and reset the pieces. Carter won her war against corruption, but at a terrible cost. Meanwhile, a threat to the Machine itself surfaced in the form of a competing artificial intelligence, Samaritan, and its human backers.

The hacker Root, once an enemy, became an ally at the behest of her goddess, the Machine. Season 3 ended with Samaritan in charge of the virtual network once ruled by the Machine, while Reese, Finch, Root, and their new ally, Shaw, went underground.

This season has ventured even further into science fiction territory, as the Machine and Samaritan began fighting a war to control of humanity via technology. The Machine is more a benevolent overload who believes in free will while Samaritan believes humanity should be carefully controlled and steered into the best direction. If that costs individual lives, so be it. The ends justify the means.

But are the artificial intelligences so different in the end? Samaritan, using a young boy as a voice, tells Finch that the Machine can’t be human, as much as its creator wants it to be.

It’s war between Samaritan and the Machine, with our flawed heroes and humanity caught in the middle, and only the Machine’s tenuous connection to its creator, Finch, hint that the Machine may yet do the right thing. If it survives, that is.

Root (Amy Acker) and Shaw (Sara Shahi). Who knew watching flirting between a black hat hacker not afraid to torture and a sociopathic assassin would be so much fun? Image via CBS.

All this while Finch, Reese, Shaw, and Root are still using numbers provided by the Machine to help others and trying to avoid detection by Samaritan.

Add in the growing subtext of attraction between Root and Shaw, which even has a complicated BDSM edge, and it’s compelling television every week. The writers have even managed to keep their flashbacks relevant and on point, creating a second narrative in the past that runs alongside the present story. The only issue I have is that Carter was the moral glue that held the cast together and with Taraji P. Henson moving on to another show, her energy is sorely missed. I’m not sure how to fix that.

If you’ve never watched, Person of Interest is a definite candidate for a binging, especially as the flashbacks each season tie the overall season arcs together.

Speaking of binging, I’ve been catching up on my comic reading.

Book of the Week: Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years

Every now and then, I’m asked “if I want to read Batman, where do I start?”

Start with this book.

I’ve flipped through it before but never had time to sit down and absorb all the stories until the holidays.

Not only does this volume contain some of my favorite stories from childhood, including stories by Denny O’Neil, Steve Englehart, and Doug Moench, with artwork by the great Neal Adams, the late great Marshall Rogers, Michael Golden, Jim Aparo, and Graham Nolan, it also contains some of the most definitive Batman stories ever, including the debut of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl.

Those that immediately stood out for me:

“….The Player on the Other Side,” (1984) by Mike W. Barr, art by Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo. On the same night in Gotham that Bruce Wayne loses his parents to a horrific crime, another boy, the son of criminals, loses his parents to a police officer’s bullet. The boy grows up to be Batman’s mirror image, The Wrath, the player on the other side. Brilliant story, with an unexpectedly poignant ending.

“Air Time,” (2001) by Greg Rucka, art by Rick Burchett and Rodney Ramos. A family is run off the road by a van of criminals being chased by Batman. The comic intercuts the family’s struggle to stay alive while trapped underwater with Batman’s pursuit of the criminals, raising the tension with every panel as the reader wonders if Batman will ever notice the trapped car.

“The Beautiful People,” (2006) by Paul Dini and J.H. Williams. In full control of the artistic talent that will soon be on display in his work on Kate Kane/Batwoman, Williams turns a tale of Batman tracking down a gang of high-end thieves into a somewhat surreal tale of criminals who wear masks to hide who they are.

The list price is $39.99, but Amazon and other sites have it significantly discounted.

Writer, Mom, Geek and Superhero. though usually not all four on the same day. Author of the award-winning Phoenix Institute Superhero series and the steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract.