'It is better to die fighting,
Than to die running.........'
I won't keep you in suspense - I sat down to watch, ready to cringe: instead, I saw what instantly became my favourite episode. I loved it.....
It wasn't the singing - which even at its worst was more than adequate - or the music - which was a delight, with strong overtones of Gilbert and Sullivan - or the songs themselves - which had an elegant, entirely charming simplicity (Ken commented that some parts of Brigadoom reminded him of nursery rhymes, which, given that many such children's songs are sung to remind the singers of actual historical events, is actually very apt in this instance!). And the revelations about the Brunnen-G held few real surprises. But the acting was wonderful, and I found myself happily and willingly suspending disbelief as the story progressed....
The entire episode resembled a Gilbert and Sullivan song, with Stan's repeated 'We have to leave because the universe is coming to an end, and we have to get to the centre of the universe if we're not to get eaten by Mantrid's drones...' acting as a chorus. And there were so many echoes and resonances within Brigadoom that even after happily watching it four times in succession (something I've only ever done with SuperNova and GigaShadow - that's how much I enjoyed this episode!) I'm sure there are facets I've missed.... However, let's try and quantify some of the ones I did pick up on.
"Welcome, my friends. Welcome to our little show...."
That hit like icy water down the spine. Remember GigaShadow? -
"Welcome, my friends. Welcome to the end of everything...."
Given that the theatre and the actors exist outside of the cycles of time - and space - the unspoken parallels here were extraordinarily effective, and chilling. How do they - can they - exist so? They aren't holograms (well, I assume they aren't anyway....) - they interact with their 'audience', and they appear to have physical bodies. What happens to them when they aren't performing? How many universes are there in the multiverse? (Heinlein's suggested 666 still wouldn't be enough to fill eternity, even if each was explored to its uttermost limits....)
Kai enumerates the functions of 'theatre' from its primitive beginnings to its highest ideal: Theatre is "...a medium for communal storytelling, for exploring myth, a place of cultural and intellectual enrichment..." And which particular function is being explored here? Or is the question broader than that - as broad as time itself, perhaps?
After the Insect Wars, after the Brunnen-G travelled to the Light Universe, their fame faded. Mankind, with no common external enemy to hold them united, turned back to slaughtering each other. (Nothing much changes, then.) So the Brunnen-G turned inwards..... Why? What turned them into "pathetic shadows of what once [they] were.."? Disgust that despite all they'd died for, all they'd accomplished, humanity had learned nothing? Weariness? The need to stop and take stock? Disillusionment? All of the above?
Somehow, I can't find it in myself to blame them. They appear to have had so much to offer, over and above their skills in battle - but it's easy to imagine how quickly they would have receded into the memory of the other races. It's a sad fact that the talented (in whatever sphere) have always been envied, feared or resented by the less able. It's a lot easier to denigrate and dismiss saviours than it is to emulate their ideals and behaviour.
[On that subject, should we see Kai as a messiah-figure? If the Brunnen-G are "immortal gods at play", where do the Newborn fit in?]
The tragedy is that all that intellect and talent turned to fear and senility over the millennia. As the Master of Ceremonies - and Douglas Adams - point out, the human race isn't designed for immortality....
There's the most awful irony of Kai being condemned to die of old age - and then being made 'immortal' by the Divine Order's bio-scholars....
Then there's the absolutely extraordinary parallel (and unexpected reversal) of Kai being viewed as a traitor by his own people! How that must have shaken Stan! There's a dawning realisation on his face as he heads away from the theatre that's quite wonderful to watch - and I anticipated his turning back some moments before it actually happened. Inspired to bravery, realising his latent potential at last, he makes the decision that they're going to fight Mantrid. "Let's re-write the ending". Words to live by....
There are exquisite touches throughout the episode: the heart-shaped key in the heart-shaped lock; Kai's wonderful personal integrity in the face of condemnation, even that of his lover; the expressions on the faces of his fellow Newborn while Kai is trying to convince his people to fight rather than simply give up; the beautiful 'puppet' craft depicting the battle with the Foreshadow (they looked like a cross between Japanese kites and Balinese shadow-theatre puppets.....). And the terrible, heart-wrenching poignancy of Kai's words to his lover - "As long as this heart beats I will love only you."
But his heart no longer beats. And she died millennia ago....
More prosaic bits....
Brigadoom answered a lot of the points debated in the Tea Room and Taking tea with the Dragon - and even confirmed some of my thoughts from the first series (in The Brunnen-G; also my Analyses of the first series). The Insect Wars did take place in the Dark Zone (you were right, Windlily!!); the mark symbolising the Brunnen-G's 'escape' from the Dark Zone is present on all males; and apparently it's only the young Brunnen-G who wear those gorgeously coloured clothes (as far as we can tell from the play, anyway.)
Kai's planet is called Brunnis 2 (I still prefer New Brunnis....); the little craft with which the young Brunnen-G attack the Foreshadow were salvaged from a museum - there were no others available since the Brunnen-G gave up war (gave up life, in effect) after travelling to the Light Universe; the Brunnen-G were very traditionalist, an element that was beautifully delineated in the stately, ritualistic 'dance' performed at the very beginning of the play.
The Brunnen-G started off as romantic warriors - in the Dark Zone - and only later became romantic dreamers - as His Shadow said in IWHS. And they lived underground - no wonder their planet looked so clean and unspoiled!
And the Time Prophet did live on another planet - or "uncertain moon" as Kai put it (I wonder just what that means? That Brunnis 2's moon might be more like a sister planet, like the Earth-Moon system? That the satellite is so close to Brunnis 2 itself it shouldn't really be called a moon at all, but some sort of anomalous-gravity phenomenon? That its orbit is so unstable it shouldn't still exist?) And now that Brunnis 2 has been destroyed, has she been destroyed also? (I take nothing for granted anymore!) Whatever the explanation, I thoroughly enjoyed this scene - Lorraine Segato has a wonderful voice! - and was particularly impressed with the use of two Time Prophets to imply the overlapping nature of her particular skill..... It also echoes the words of the Master of Ceremonies - "The show never changes". The question remains - does that mean that the Lexx crew have changed history - or that they are simply, unwittingly, complying with the ruling of the cycles of time....?
It was nice to see Xenia acting for once (call me old fashioned, but I've always thought the craft involves rather more than simply pouting and posing). She made a wonderful Brunnen-G - the black wig and darker, more subdued make-up helped - and her singing voice is very pleasant. But more than anything she was, at last, entirely believable, lovely, loving and loyal. The Two Hearts duet actually moved me to tears.
And Stan was simply magnificent..... There's a lot of (newly-discovered) sensitivity hiding under that lustful exterior.
Brigadoom isn't the best Lexx episode (that honour would be split between Stan's Trial and Nook, both intelligent, compelling dramatic pieces.) But it has enchantment, and humour, and poignancy, and great beauty. For me, it's the high point of the series.
This episode reminded me slightly of Jesus Christ Superstar...... I think it was the combination of Kai as 'messiah-figure', the repeated musical themes, and the overall impression (a BIG story told on a small stage, but still somehow managing to retain a lot of its grandeur).
On the other hand, Brigadoom also had strong resonances with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. In fact, thinking about it, a number of parallels might be drawn between the play and Lexx (though please understand I am not for one moment suggesting that the two are of the same calibre!) Nevertheless - "...you shall hear of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts, of accidental judgements, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, and...purposes mistook..." (the lines are from Hamlet via R & G are Dead, but apply equally well to the Lexx and its crew. There were shades of Waiting for Godot in there, too...) [see bottom of the page for the requisite quotes]
There's such tragedy in Kai's "I want more". In the event, he ended up with less than nothing.....
Well, I wouldn't be me if I didn't have a few (minor) complaints... Ignore them if you like - they're not really important...
If the Brunnen-G had developed the technology to extend their lives indefinitely, how come they didn't also have the medical capabilities to repair any damage done to their bodies? Going by the episode, immortality must involve some kind of treatment (if it was genetic, it wouldn't have been possible for Kai to be allowed to die of old age - unless there was another treatment that interrupted the immortality process. But if that was the case, surely their medical abilities must be well developed..... I'm going round in circles here. I'll stop before I get dizzy. It's not important to the plot, anyway.)
The young/old dichotomy was a little...ordinary. It would have been nice, and original (although it would have changed the plot somewhat!) to have had the young and old Brunnen-G living together in perfect harmony.
The theatre simply wasn't ornate enough to be truly Brunnen-G.
So the Insect Wars took place in the Dark Zone. So how did the last survivor end up in the Light Universe?
The Master of Ceremonies rather reminded me of an Aubrey Beardsley figure..... A lovely, rich speaking voice - and I liked the way the 'hand' on the end of his staff changed shape.
What on Brunnis was that peculiar little vessel Kai used to travel to the Time Prophet's moon? It looked a bit like an exotic caterpillar! Was this supposed to show us an example of Brunnis 2 fauna? If so, how could it travel through space?
Please tell me this isn't all we're going to discover about the Brunnen-G, and especially the species' last representative. We've been teased throughout the series with little snippets - as in Kai likes balloons, and fishing, and also knows exactly what theatres are and what they do, while Stan and Xev have never heard of them - but we haven't yet found out what relevance this has. In fact, Kai's memories haven't really been explored at all, either the personal ones or those of the other individuals he acquired when he regained his own. And there are only two episodes to go - in the second series anyway.....
Finally, the name Brigadoom itself. Etymologically, it means "Bridge of Judgement (or Trial)" - a highly appropriate title, given the circumstances. The theatre itself bridges universes: and this time round, Stan redeems himself - and by extension the rest of humanity. He may not be the least bit successful, but, ye gods, it feels good!!
To forestall the inevitable comments, I am aware that Brigadoom is also a take on Brigadoon, the musical concerning a 'mythical' Scottish village whose existence only intersects/coincides with what passes for reality every 100 years.)
Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett (Faber and Faber).
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead Tom Stoppard (Faber and Faber). Possibly my favourite play of all time. And here are my very favourite lines (from amongst a host of extraordinary speeches) from that play (it's my site and I'll be self-indulgent if I like....!):
[Guildenstern] Autumnal - nothing to do with leaves. It is to do with a certain brownness at the edges of the day... Brown is creeping up on us, take my word for it... Russets and tangerine shades of old gold flushing the very outside edge of the senses... deep shining ochres, burnt umber and parchments of baked earth - reflecting on itself and through itself, filtering the light. At such times, perhaps, coincidentally, the leaves might fall, somewhere...
(Act Two: page 68 in my ancient, battered, much-read much-loved copy.....)
And finally, just because I love the song so much, here are the words to that final, glorious outpouring of courage, love and sheer bloody-mindedness! (With thanks to Andre Haines and Lex Gigeroff.)
Sept 2000 - Click here for the mp3 of the Finale.
If this should be our final stand
We will stand together with pride,
We will honour the past
And fight to the last
It will be a good way to die.
It matters not if the cause is lost
And we cannot stop the tide
We will fight to the end,
And then fight again,
It will be a good way to die.
[Xev - Our time is short
Our chances grim,
But I will not give in to fear
I can face death with an open heart,
If I know that you are near.
If I must die, I'll be with you, Kai,
Full of pride, at your side,
I live now for you, my love -
It's a good way to die.]
This moment will live on through time -
If anyone ever asks why
The Brunnen-G did not fall on their knees -
You will know they found a good way to die...
September 2000: - I received an email from Andre Haines early in August: -
"You are right in your comments. The themes that we used for melodic structure are folk tunes for young people. Some of them are international, known in many
laguages, others are German only. We first started the project at Paul Donovan's house: I played through old folk tunes, and then did some musical improv variations. We selected the tunes we would be reinventing, and away we went.
To keep the musical theme, but change it enough to make it sound new, yet familiar, was an interesting task. Through new rhythms, beat structure (time signatures) and melodic variation I created these "new" melodies. I would have liked to have had the chance to write new melodies from scratch: however as we worked on the score, I began to see how adaptable the "nursery rhyme tunes" were.
It was great to work with my brother on this show. Lexx in his own right is an excellent song writer, and we used to perform his music when we were young kids. I think we were about 11 & 12 when we first tried to write our own musical. What a kick it was some 25 years later to do Brigadoom. (One more side note: Brigadoon [not the film! Flare] was one of the first musicals that Lex and I appeared in as youths (at 13 & 14) - chorus parts of course.)
It was an exciting project. Very intense due to time restrictions. I am glad that it turned out well, and that you enjoyed it so much."
Many thanks to Andre for the information, and for permission to share it on this page!
© 1999 WordWrights.
All sound bytes used without express permission but employing the reviewer's privilege to use up to 10% of the reviewed material in support of the review.