Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Stain on Your Game Table

Sagrada is a largely abstract board game at its core, done up in a very colorful wrapper. The players are each crafting their own stained glass windows, vying for the most points at the end of the game.

Each "window" is a grid 5 squares wide and 4 squares tall, which you must fill up over the game with dice in 5 different colors. You must always place each new die adjacent (diagonally or orthogonally) to a die you've previously placed, but you may never place a die of the same color or value next to another (orthogonally). Complicating this task is the starting template you must work on, which, though leaving some squares undefined, will require that many squares be filled with a die of a particular color or value.

Each round of the 10-round game is a serpentine draft. The first player pulls dice from a bag at random, one more than the number of players, and then rolls them. That player then drafts which die he wants to take and place in his window. He then must sit in tension as every other player drafts two dice from the pile, one at a time clockwise around the table, then one at a time counter-clockwise back, starting with the last player. It's a draft style that works especially well for this game, as early players will often end up with one thing that's exactly what they want and one thing they don't want at all; later players can usually get two things that work, though neither of them perfect.

Changing up the game each time you play are the scoring conditions. Each player has a secret color they're trying most to collect -- they'll score the total value shown on all dice of that color at the end of the game. There are also three common scoring conditions shown on cards revealed at random at the start of the game. There might be points for full sets of all 6 die values, or for maintaining an entire column of different colors, or for an entire row of different values. (You'll lose 1 point for every empty space you aren't able to legally fill by the end of the game.)

Easing your strategic considerations while also making them deeper are a trio of special powers (also randomly selected and represented on cards) you can use during your turn. They provide effects like the ability to relocate one die within your window, reroll a die at the time you draft it, or place a die while ignoring a particular restriction normally placed on you. But you only get to use these powers sparingly. Each player is given between 3 and 6 tokens at the start of the game, as defined by the starting window grid -- harder grids give more tokens. The first player to use a power in the entire game can do so for a cost of just one token; each subsequent use by anyone requires two. You want to act early for the bargain, but powers are far more useful later in the game as your window fills and dice placement gets harder. (Any tokens you haven't spent by the end of the game are worth a point each.)

I've thoroughly enjoyed this game each time I've played it. What's more, it's been the rare game of late to get played multiple times in my group; too often, it's only the party games that make repeat appearances, while the deeper thinking games, no matter how satisfying, get played only once or twice. (So many games, so little time.) Sagrada, with its fairly easy-to-understand rules and short-to-medium play times, has become a regular request.

I should also point out that I've enjoyed the game despite the fact that I haven't yet won it. Actually, my husband has defeated all comers, dialing in expertly on the type of planning this game requires. But I still want to keep trying to pull out a victory.

My only minor complaint would be that I think the dice in the game are a little too small. The scale was understandably shrunk to conserve table space, make the draw bag of 90 dice not too heavy, and (yes) save a little on production costs. But the dice are small enough, and the window frames tight enough (and built shallow enough) that it's fairly easy to accidentally nudge a die you've previously placed. It seems like every single player has done it at least once every time I've played, and they always have to apologize to the group as they try to remember what value that die showed previously when they put it back.

Still, I'd give Sagrada a high recommendation -- an A- grade. Even for gamers that normally might shy away from the randomness of dice, this game uses them in a compelling and strategic way.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

DS9 Flashback: Emissary

It's been more than a year now since I wrapped up my re-watch of Star Trek: The Next Generation. It had always been my intention to move along to Deep Space Nine, my favorite of the Star Trek series, but I didn't quite get around to it. By now, of course, we have Star Trek: Discovery and the Star Trek homage series The Orville, so my blog has no shortage of Star Trek. Still, it's Deep Space Nine! So away we go, starting with the two-hour premiere, Emissary.

In the three years since losing his wife in the battle with the Borg at Wolf 359, Benjamin Sisko has grown detached from most everything but his son Jake. Now he's been assigned to command a remote space station, abandoned by the Cardassians in orbit of Bajor... and this may just be the last straw before he leaves Starfleet for a civilian life. But then the spiritual leader of the Bajorans, Kai Opaka, sets him on a quest that may change everything for him, Bajor, and the galaxy: he must find the Celestial Temple, home of the god-like Bajoran Prophets.

It may be for the better that I didn't start watching Deep Space Nine again until Discovery came along, because Star Trek's newest series provides interesting context for this older one. Many of the criticisms leveled at Discovery today were leveled at Deep Space Nine back in 1993. It's so dark and gritty. The theme song isn't adventurous enough. The characters don't feel like a happy family. Where's the "boldly going?" Why do they wear different uniforms? Deep Space Nine grew into something amazing, of course, despite these initial signs that turned some Trekkers off. Here's hoping Discovery does the same.

Deep Space Nine was designed to be different, of course. The creators felt they couldn't have two exploring starships on two different series at the same time, and so deliberately designed this "Western in space" show to be The Rifleman to The Next Generation's Wagon Train. Deep Space Nine would stay in one place and have to live with consequences, where the Enterprise could just forget about the ramifications of anything they did and warp to the next adventure.

The creators did want to use some elements of the parent show in the spin-off. They'd hoped to bring Ro Laren over as the station's first officer, but actress Michelle Forbes turned down the offer, not wanting to be tied to a single series for years. (Major Kira was created in her place, and this was likely a better thing for the show, having a Bajoran character who was not a Starfleet officer.) The creators also decided to have a Trill in the main cast, though the makeup was redesigned from its original Next Generation appearance after two days of filming, once the executives decided it detracted too much from Terry Farrell's appearance.

But mostly, Deep Space Nine was intended to be new and different. And it would include a mix of Starfleet and non-Starfleet characters, to skirt Gene Roddenberry's edict that future humans wouldn't have conflict (the lifeblood of good television drama) with each other. The rough circumstances of life on the station would also give the human characters permission to be less than their idealized Starfleet selves. This falling apart alien station, a steampunk-like contrast to the comparatively antiseptic Enterprise, made it okay for O'Brien to kick the machinery, for Bashir to unthinkingly flaunt his privilege by calling someone's home a "wilderness," and for Sisko to not want to be there at all.

Right out the gate here, we have Sisko and Kira feuding with each other. We have Odo sparring verbally with Quark (though it's the performances of Rene Auberjonois and Armin Shimerman that rightly shade this for comedy rather than venom). We have Kira and O'Brien bonding over, essentially, racism -- a mutual hatred of Cardassians. You even have the star of this new series actively hating the star of the existing one, depicted in Sisko's anger (irrational, though understandable) at Captain Picard over the death of his wife. (For Picard's part, this is a truly terrible reminder of the worst event of his life.) I suppose if one could only see Star Trek as what The Next Generation was offering, then yes, this was a real shock to the system.

But there were ways in which this first episode of Deep Space Nine actually wasn't all that different from the series that spawned it. Many of the elements introduced here were also part of The Next Generation's pilot, "Encounter at Farpoint." You have characters with one kind of past relationship now trying to forge a different one. (Riker and Troi; Sisko and Dax.) You have a single parent who has lost a spouse trying to raise a kid alone. (The Crushers; the Siskos.) There's an "outsider" character who doesn't know the full details of his origins. (Data; Odo.) Some characters aren't introduced until partway through the episode (Riker, Geordi, and the Crushers; Dax and Bashir.) And then there's the fact that Deep Space Nine would actually go on to have a mostly "Next Gen" first season of not-always-inspired adventures of the week.

Still, a lot of what would become core to Deep Space Nine was here, in some form, right at the beginning. Religion played a major role in the story, for the first time in Star Trek. Recurring characters, significant and minor, appeared for the first time: Dukat, Nog, and barfly Morn. Quark is conniving, and less of a caricature than Next Generation Ferengi. Avery Brooks is pouring his soul into an emotional performance. Kira is all hard edges and emotional barriers.

Not everything gels right out of the gate, though, and the script itself isn't top notch. The emotional content of the scenes with the wormhole aliens is great, but the actual dialogue is rather rough. (Does Sisko really do convincing a job explaining the nature of linear existence? I mean, if you really have no understanding of it at all?) And not that this show ever pretended to have a "grand plan," but various details here, major and minor, don't quite fit with things we later learn. The Prophets would later be revealed to be much more in touch with existence beyond the wormhole than you'd ever guess. Sisko's father, though established here as a chef, is implied to be either dead or retired. Dax's previous host would eventually be said to have died in a far less peaceful (but happy; ahem) way. Quark's makeup looks different (with Armin Shimerman wearing the prosthetic for his brother Rom). Still, there's much more good than bad here, and plenty of promise for the future of the series.

Other observations:
  • This pilot had a huge budget for the time, particular compared with The Next Generation's premiere. You see the money on screen in lots of location shooting, and in the on-screen realization of the Battle at Wolf 359. (In Next Gen, we saw only the aftermath.)
  • The captain of the Saratoga is played by J.G. Hertzler, the actor who would go on to play Martok in later seasons of the show.
  • O'Brien's goodbye to The Next Generation -- first, to the bridge itself, and then to Captain Picard -- is a wonderfully poignant moment for fans of that series.
  • The idea that Sisko and Dax see different landscapes when they exit the runabout inside the wormhole is an interesting one, but isn't really explained. My thoughts: maybe Dax sees a paradise because she's happy to be out there exploring, while Sisko's desire not to be on the station at all is reflected in the bleak wasteland he sees.
  • Michelle Forbes wasn't the only "first choice" actress to turn down a role on the series. The creators originally sought Famke Janssen to play Dax, but she too didn't want to be tied down to a series. Interestingly, the character Janssen played in The Next Generation would clearly inspire the redesigned Trill makeup.
"Emissary" is hardly peak Deep Space Nine, but it gets the series started on a stronger foot than any previous Star Trek pilot did. I'd mark it a B+. As I remember things, that actually puts it on the high end of a sometimes lackluster first season of the show. But either way, the (long) journey through Deep Space Nine has begun for me again.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Krill

The Orville feels like it's still trying to find the right balance of comedy and drama, and with its most recent episode, turned the dial sharply in the comedy direction. "Krill" was far and away its funniest episode yet. If I were just tuning into The Orville for the laughs, I might be inclined to say that this is perfect -- keep things right there. But the prior episodes of the series have established that they're not just here to crack jokes, they're here to tell legitimate Star Trek stories as well. And from that angle, the episode was decent, but still a bit off.

The moral line this story tried to walk was a bit too tricky. Mercer and Malloy started their mission as an earnest attempt to understand their adversaries better. But then it took a sharp turn into planning a mass murder. And then the scales of that were somehow meant to be balanced by their efforts to save a group of children. Sure, war blurs the moral lines, and you could weigh the lives they were saving against the lives they were taking, but the episode didn't really do that effectively -- the one good moment in this regard was the final scene, in which the Krill woman Teleya chillingly pointed out that they've made enemies for life out of each of those rescued children. Perhaps without all the surrounding comedy, this material wouldn't have seemed so jarring. Or perhaps it's simply that because the humor seemed at its most dialed in, I wanted the drama to be too.

I certainly did enjoy the episode for that humor, though. The endless jokes about the Krill deity Avis never seemed to get old (may he cover the loss of our vehicle). But there were plenty of other funny moments too, from the general sloppiness of Mercer and Malloy as undercover operatives (though that too may have hurt the credibility of the drama), to the "Bortus eats anything" cold open, to the great callback about Malloy's new leg. If the show can continue operating at this level, I feel like it will have nailed a key part of its formula.

We skip The Orville this week, thanks to baseball playoffs. Hopefully this doesn't cost them too much ratings momentum just when they're building up a rhythm. I'd mark "Krill" a B+.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Choose Your Pain


Star Trek: Discovery turned in another strong episode this week with "Choose Your Pain."

When Captain Lorca is captured by the Klingons, Discovery must mount a rescue. But the unwilling use of the tardigrade to power the ship's spore drive has had increasingly negative effects on the creature. A clash ensues between Burnham and Saru over the ethics versus the necessities of the situation.

For those concerned that Discovery was charting too dark a path, this episode injected a big dose of Star Trek ideals into the mix. Michael Burnham's conscience could not abide the abuse of a life-form, no matter the justification, and that attitude helped other characters reconnect with their own dormant sense of morality -- most keenly Stamets. One could argue that his motives in injecting himself with the tardigrade DNA weren't primarily about sparing the life-form (or even the ship); he specifically wished in a previous episode that he could "talk to his mushrooms," and this was an exact fulfillment of that wish. (Though the final scene darkly hinted at hidden costs for this.)

Even though more recognizable Star Trek ideals were in evidence this episode, the series definitely didn't relinquish its claim on darker material. We learned this week that Lorca murdered the entire crew of his former ship rather than see them captured by Klingons. Though you could fixate on the plot hole of wondering just how he managed to escape, I instead choose to focus on the volumes this says about his character. It's a real turducken of compassion, cold-bloodedness, and compartmentalization, and tells us just what lengths Lorca will go to. (Where Klingons are involved in particular.)

There was still more darkness in the introduction of the series' final main character, Ash Tyler. Though he and Michael Burnham have both spent the last half year in prison, Tyler's experience could not be more different. Discovery as a series is poised to really explore his PTSD in deep ways that, say, The Next Generation only briefly did with Picard after his experience with the Borg (and even less following his torture at the hands of a Cardassian). Moreover, Tyler isn't just a prisoner of war, isn't just a victim of torture, but was specifically established as a survivor of sexual violence. Discovery will have to handle this very carefully to do right by real life victims, but if the writers can rise to the challenge, it will allow Star Trek to truly go where it's never gone before.

Speaking of which... "Fuck." With Tilly's unguarded outburst (and Stamets' agreement that that's the exactly the word that was called for), Star Trek left its former high water mark of profanity in the dust. (Data's "shit" in Generations?) I'm really not sure how I feel about this moment. Over on The Orville, "Star Trek with characters that talk like normal people" is part of the allure. Here, on actual Star Trek, having the characters talk like normal people has been an adjustment, whether its Stamets talking about music that actually came after the baroque era (his uncle plays in a Beatles cover band), Tilly's awkward motor mouth, or now, the dropping of F-bombs. I can imagine there are parents out there now truly outraged that they feel they can no longer watch Star Trek with their children. I sort of empathize with them to the extent that if Discovery is just doing this because they're on a streaming service and they can, that's not a great reason. But it did feel reasonably organic (and funny) in the moment. I guess the jury's out for me, and we'll see if further "evidence" is "submitted" in future episodes.

Counterbalancing all these ways in which this episode was presenting a modern, grittier Star Trek, it loaded up with shout-outs to prior series. Saru's computer inquiry about great starship captains mentioned Robert April, Jonathan Archer, Matt Decker, and Christopher Pike, ticking off the animated series, the first Star Trek pilot, Enterprise, and a particularly beloved episode of the original series. Meanwhile, if you made any mental connections to The Next Generation in watching a captured captain be tortured with light, that's on you. (Though there should have been four lights.)

Then we had Star Trek fan Rainn Wilson as original series rogue Harcourt Fenton Mudd. This was a performance that worked well in this series, even if it's hard to reconcile this tormented Klingon prisoner struggling to survive with the playful scamp we'd "later" see in the original series. Then again, we don't see starship hallways bathed in pink and green spotlights either. The personality of the original Mudd wouldn't have worked at all here. For some, that probably means this version should have simply been an original character. But we have what we have, and I for one hope we'll see Mudd again, trying to make good on his threat to come after Lorca.

I can't close out without acknowledging, at last, the depiction of a relationship between gay characters on a Star Trek series for the first time. It had been teased in the press for Discovery, but in this episode was finally made official, the relationship between Stamets and Culber. On the one shoulder (with the chip on it), I'm annoyed that the two weren't shown in a romantic context (even a simple kiss), as if the creative forces behind the show are still nervous about that or something. On the other shoulder, it's nice that we saw a scene of simple domesticity that depicted the relationship as routine as any other. (And the scene was a little daring, from a Star Trek point of view: it actually took place in a bathroom.) In the end, I mostly come down on the side of thrilled to see this, particularly when the nature of Discovery doesn't seem like it's going to make much room for any other romantic relationships besides this one.

This was probably my second-favorite episode so far, though it still didn't quite climb into A territory for me. I'd call it a strong B+. It put down lots of new paths for future episodes to walk, and I look forward to that.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Pharaoh to Remember

Mask of the Pharaoh is a bit of an odd duck that straddles the line between game and group activity. (It also straddles names; before Hasbro bought and re-issued it, it was originally released under the title Mask of Anubis.)

You download an app to your phone that will simulate a view standing inside a cartoonish Egyptian tomb, placing your phone inside a mask that will create a 3D effect when you look inside. (For spectators, it creates the appearance of you putting a dog-headed Anubis mask over your eyes. A+ for flavor there.)

You get one minute to look at a fixed position inside the tomb, but you can rotate in all directions to describe everything you see in a 360-degree panorama -- the junctions of the passages, any adornments hanging on the walls, and so forth. As you describe, all other players use a series of jigsaw-style pieces to try to assemble an overhead map of what you're seeing.

When the minute is up, you pass the mask to the next player, who is then dropped into a separate location inside the same tomb and then gets a minute to describe what they see. You get seven views in total, and if everyone is good enough and thorough enough at describing what they see, a clear picture will come together of the entire tomb -- you'll figure out where the different parts of the maze adjoin, and reveal an unbroken path from the starting point to a throne deep inside. If you do this successfully, your group wins. If not... well, try again (perhaps on an easier difficulty setting).

The endeavor takes, as you would imagine, just upward of seven minutes (one minute per view). But you'll immediately want to play again, so don't expect this to just be 10 minutes and done. It has a viral quality to it too. It came out on a recent game night where the group was large enough to split in half, and the people who had opted for the more conventional strategy game had moments of envy glancing over at the group playing with the Egyptian mask.

But the fun it brings is limited. It isn't a super-deep experience; there are only so many things you can find adorning the walls of the tomb, and the "gameplay" (to the extent it feels like a game at all) is very limited. The more you play, the more you and your friends develop a shorthand and the whole thing becomes much less challenging. Simply, the half-life on this thing is quite brief. I was glad to have played it, and I also kind of expect not to play it again -- not for not wanting to exactly, but because I doubt it will ever be anyone's top suggestion.

I'd give Mask of the Pharaoh a B-. Perhaps if a more robust game had been grafted onto the concept, it would be something to recommend. As it stands, a party game group (with spatially-oriented people) will probably mine it for a bit of fun before moving on.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Re-Run

If I'm being honest, I respected the movie Blade Runner more than I enjoyed it. Film noir stories are more miss than hit with me, and the original Blade Runner indulged in all of the trappings of film noir that turn me off. Still, there was an artistic sci-fi vision there beyond reproach; the film looks amazing even today, and is positively mind-boggling by 1982 standards. Hopefully, this background gives you a sense of the modest hopes I had for the new sequel, Blade Runner 2049.

Almost any discussion of the plot gets into spoiler territory, bur slightly fleshing out what the trailers implied seems safe enough. Set 30 years after the events of the first film, Blade Runner 2049 follows a new police officer/hunter played by Ryan Gosling, as he tracks down a missing replicant of world-changing significance. The search ultimately brings him into contact with Rick Deckard, the central character played by Harrison Ford in the original film.

I found the plot of this sequel to be stronger than that of the original. There are more explicit character motivations woven into this story, and the stakes are much higher. The issue of "humanity vs. artificial intelligence," which often plays as subtext in the original film, feels more integral to this new tale, and is better for it. I felt more of an emotional investment here.

That said, the pace is ponderously slow at times. Some of this is done in deliberate homage to the original, and even works at times as a stylistic choice. But the movie does run two hours and 40 minutes, and there isn't two hours and 40 minutes' worth of plot here. Particularly uncomfortable is the decision to delay a particular plot development you know is coming until more than 100 minutes into the film. Many movies are ending by that point, and yet this one is (from a cynical point of view) just getting started.

The casting is impeccable, most keenly in Ryan Gosling. Looking back on the original film, Harrison Ford's rather flat performance was one of its weaknesses; he was deliberately turning off the Han Solo/Indiana Jones charm, but was still years off from perfecting the non-verbal acting he'd show off in other films. (Key exhibit: The Fugitive.) Ryan Gosling is a perfect heir-apparent to the emotionally stunted Deckard of the original Blade Runner; the film leverages his trademark restraint in a fantastic way. (And as for Harrison Ford himself? Well, he's now 35 years wiser as a performer, and is able to effectively "do more with less" this time around.)

A pair of outstanding actresses do their best to steal the movie. Ana de Armas plays Joi, a holographic character that's the film's most effective way of exploring questions of "real" vs. "artificial." From one scene to the next, and even alternating within a single scene, de Armas walks the line between authentic emotion and programmed response. Then there's Sylvia Hoeks as Luv, this film's closest proxy for Roy Batty in the original film. Hoeks imbues her character with more legit menace and malice than I ever felt from Rutger Hauer, standing out as a strong character, period (without needing to qualify her as a "strong female character").

There are plenty of other actors you'll recognize. Dave Bautista has a small but pivotal role that may well surprise people with its emotional heft (those people who didn't pay attention to what he was doing in the Guardians of the Galaxy movies, anyway). Robin Wright employs the frigid authority she cultivated on House of Cards to chilling effect. Jared Leto's role is a weak link, though the actor's own real-life egocentric impulses play as perfect subtext for the self-important aphorisms of his character. There are other tiny roles that make a big impact too, but it feels best not to spoil anything about them.

Of course, it wouldn't be a worthy Blade Runner sequel if the visuals weren't a major part of it. Director Denis Villeneuve (who helmed the excellent Arrival) takes the baton from Ridley Scott without missing a step. With brilliant production design and cinematography, the movie is awash in color and mood. Sickly yellow never looked so gorgeous. The future of the first film is expanded on creatively and faithfully (even when that means continuing to use brands that have gone belly-up over the years since 1982). In this age where I'd have bet no visual effects could be considered truly jaw-dropping anymore, this film manages multiple such moments. (One in particular is a trick that has been tried recently in other films, succeeding here where others failed by knowing the limitations of the technology, knowing how to do things sparingly and hide the "seams.")

The musical score, by Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer, is a glorious throwback to the Vangelis music of the original film. It repeats actual themes from the original, develops new ones, and manages to capture the soul of early 80s synth without bringing the cheesiness along with it. It's a soundtrack I'll likely be adding to my collection.

Blade Runner 2049 does have its flaws, but it held my attention far more effectively than the original -- and judging by the reviews, it managed to do so while simultaneously pleasing that movie's most die-hard fans. That's no mean feat. I give Blade Runner 2049 a B+. This is one to catch in a theater, on the big screen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Pria

The latest episode of The Orville wasn't just an homage to Star Trek: The Next Generation, but to Firefly too. It felt directly inspired by two episodes (though not an exact copy of either), Trek's "A Matter of Time" (about a time-traveling hustler) and Firefly's "Our Mrs. Reynolds" (about a grifter who takes in most of the crew, and the captain in particular).

Unfortunately, I found it a weaker episode of The Orville, on a few levels. The script was in a general shape, but lacking polish. The ex-spouse conflict between Mercer and Grayson was a great theme to explore, but the dialogue was a bit ham-fisted. The title character of Pria was a great stone to make ripples in the pond, but not quite alluring enough to believably captivate Mercer, nor quite clever enough for the audience to ever really believe her over Grayson.

On the performance side, I learned about the limitations of Charlize Theron. She is, without question, a strong actress. She's made many great films and has been great in them. I haven't seen the one for which she won an Oscar (Monster), but I have no reason to suspect she didn't deserve it. But television is a different animal -- a merciless beast that must be fed.

Films shoot just a couple pages a day, over the course of months. Television shoots a whole episode in just seven or eight days, filming up to 10 pages a day (or more) at times just to keep on schedule. There's little time for rehearsal, only slightly more time to try multiple takes and finesse a performance. A television actor has to be in the ballpark on the first try, calibrate quickly to director suggestions, and nail a scene fast to make the day. I think it's not saying much bad about Charlize Theron to say that (from this performance, at least), television simply isn't for her. She came off rather wooden, and certainly couldn't wrap her tongue around the technobabble. She was there at the request of her friend Seth MacFarlane, and now will return to the movies, where she'll shine again.

I place the blame on Theron because I know she had a good director on this occasion: Star Trek's own Commander Riker, Jonathan Frakes. Frakes is an excellent television director, having cut his teeth on The Next Generation (many of its better episodes), and having since worked on a number of other shows. What's more, he works well with actors; in fact, I'd say he teased out the best performances in the show so far from MacFarlane (as a dopey, smitten Mercer) and Scott Grimes (as Malloy, in the "pranking Isaac" subplot). Frakes also did some flashy camera moves in this episode -- nothing that broke the show's style entirely, but definitely more ambitious than the norm.

Still, it's a shame that Frakes' episode this season was the one that could have used another draft on the script. It was more disorderly than an actual disaster, but when the comedy subplot plays as stronger than the main story line, something is definitely off. I give "Pria" a B-.