I don’t typically recommend judging a series by its pilot episode. It’s made when the writers and producers are still trying to figure out what the show’s going to be, where it’s going to go. So, much of what we may come to love about the series, should it get that far, is yet unformed in that first episode.
But the first episode in John Scalzi‘s serial The Human Division was so good that I felt pretty confident in recommending it. “The B-Team” was a fantastic opening, and promised another classic from the creator of Old Man’s War and Redshirts.
And it’s only gotten better…
We’re now at the midway point in The Human Division‘s season (as it were). And Scalzi has rather brilliantly expanded on the storylines introduced in “The B-Team,” while making some rather wonderful digressions along the way.
I won’t get into the details of the plot, partly because I don’t want to spoil it for you, partly because there’s too much going on for me to even try, and mostly because the moment I even think of committing to an opinion of where Scalzi’s going with it, he’ll take it in a completely unexpected direction that makes PERFECT SENSE the moment you set that e-reader down. (This is one of Scalzi’s trademarks – if you’ve read Redshirts, or the incredible Zoe’s Tale, then you know how good he is at it.)
Episode 7, “The Dog King,” makes a perfect case in point. It begins as what I like to call a Decompression Episode. That’s the kind of episode you always get on shows like Breaking Bad or Lost, after a really intense, eventful episode (in this case, the political thriller “The Back Channel”). The Decompression Episode might be funny, or it might not, but either way it’s usually much quieter. It’s designed not so much to advance the plot, but to give characters and audience a chance to breathe and recover.
And so, when Harry Wilson (a supporting character in Old Man’s War, a standout in The Human Division‘s ensemble cast) is assigned the task of walking an ambassador’s dog during a critical negotiation, we already have certain expectations. We expect that things will go Horribly Wrong and lead to a potential intragalactic incident. And we may be right. We expect that Wilson, one of the Colonial Defense Forces’ most creative thinkers, will have to carry the day again. And we may or may not be right. We expect to find ourselves wondering what this has to do with the conspiracies and conflicts intimated in “The B-Team” and “A Voice In The Wilderness” and “Tales From The Clarke.”
And the answer might just be “everything.”
That’s Scalzi’s brilliance, that he can take a funny story like “The Dog King” – and it’s hilarious – and tie it into something much larger, much more serious, much more powerful. The comedy doesn’t undermine what Wilson’s up against in those more dramatic episodes; instead, it underlines the stakes. That the fate of the Colonial Union could very well hinge on whether Harry Wilson can keep up with a Lhasa Apso is funny enough to be deadly serious, and serious enough to be laugh-out-loud funny.
In other words, it’s John Scalzi in his usual rare form.
So, if you haven’t been keeping up with The Human Division, you really, really should. All of the previous episodes are available online at the e-book merchant of your choice, with a new episode – the ominously titled “The Sound of Rebellion” – due next Tuesday. So there’s no better time than now for a catch-up marathon.
Thanks once again for following along – I hope you’ll tune in with me for the rest of the series.
So, until that next episode, “be seeing you…”