Dune, the miniseries (Part II)

Okay, in my last post, I tried to cover Dune the miniseries and everything that made it work. I tried to do this in one post… and failed! Going over that six hour beast is like trying to devour an elephant. You can’t do it all at once, no matter how hard you try. I’m beginning to think this is how Lynch felt when he tried to go about condensing Dune into one movie… interesting!

So, with all that in mind, I’ve decided to divide my review into sections. And for simplification, I’ve renamed them so the first post covers the movie, and the three subsequent ones will address the miniseries. And since I covered all the background to the miniseries in the last post, we can jump right into the content itself! Okay Irulan, take us away!

(Content—>)
Part II opens with Irulan doing a quick intro and a recap, as is her function. We then get into the thick of things, the Harkonnen’s assessing their victory, and Paul and Jessica out in the desert taking stock of things. In the former case, the Baron talks with Kynes who was taken prisoner when they attacked the Fremen sietch. He decides to send him into the desert to die, because of course he suspects collusion. In the latter, we get a series of scenes where Paul and his mother are struggling to find their way to safety, and Paul begins to realize certain things. This section was of great importance in the novel, and it was interesting to see how Harrison would handle it. You see, Paul’s exposure to the open desert means he’s becoming even more exposed to spice. Throughout Act I he was beginning to realize how it was changing him, now he sees those changes plain as day. He recognizes that his mother is pregnant with his little sister, even though there’s no way he could have known this. He realizes that he is the result of the Bene Gesserit breeding program, but that his mother disrupted the processes, thus creating the anomaly that is him. In the novel, he also figures out just by looking at his mother that she is the Baron’s daughter, that she was the product of Bene Gesserit seduction and handiwork, something she herself never knew. But in the miniseries, we are blessedly spared this knowledge til later. Like other revelations, he clearly felt that this was something best reserved for the third act. A good idea, since pacing is important when it comes to revelations!

In the ensuing scenes, we see Paul and his mother out in the desert searching for the Fremen. We are spared some of the events from the book, thankfully, which otherwise would have made this section run long. In the end, the miniseries chooses to move us ahead to the point where, in the course of fleeing from a worm, Paul and Jessica stumble into a sietch and meet up with Stilgar and his tribe. Here, Jessica demonstrates her Weirding skills (which in the novel, as here, are hand to hand fighting skills, not some weird-ass sonic guns!) and takes Stilgar hostage. Stilgar agrees to take them in, mainly because he thinks these skills would be useful to them. Paul also meets Chani for the first time, and immediately recognizes her from his dreams. In between all this, Irulan goes home and confronts her father because she suspects he had something to do with the attack and was using her. He pleads his innocence, but not without telling her that she’s naive to the ways of the universe. This underestimation of his daughter, we shall see, will come back to hurt him later. This scene, I should note, was one more case of something that was mentioned in the novel, but only in passing. By illustrating it, the characters of the Emperor and Irulan, as well as their troubled relationship, get more fleshed out. It also helps to set up future scenes in which she had a role.

The story proceeds apace as Paul and Jessica are introduced into Fremen society. After moving with them to another sietch, everybody gets naked and Paul gets an eyefull of the beautiful Chani (his interest appears to be more prescient than primal though, which is more than I can say for the men in the audience!). His mother also takes this opportunity to speaks to him about how they should consider using the Fremen’s legends to their advantage. Paul is then challenged to a knife fight by one of the tribe, a young man named Jamis that he managed to best in a scuffle when they first met. This scene, which was left out of Lynch’s original but included in the director’s cut, is pretty damn central. It’s the first time Paul has ever killed anyone (did I forget to mention he won? Well… of course he did, he’s the main character!) It made it into Lynch’s Director’s Cut, but like every scene in the movie at that point, it was horribly rushed. In the miniseries, this scene takes its time. Paul is not challenged until after the Fremen leave the last sietch and they are settled into their new haunts, after Jamis has had some time to stew over his humiliation. In the course of the fight scene, much time is also dedicated to showing how Paul is unfamiliar with their customs and is afraid to kill. One of the best scenes of the series is when Paul drops Jamis with a kick and says “Do you yield?” Jamis is furious, and Stilgar angrily informs him: “Never yielding! It’s to the death, boy!” Naturally, his mother tells Stilgar that Paul’s never had to kill before. Stilgar is surprised, but simply replies, “He better learn…” So much is learned about Fremen culture in this one exchange! For one, we learn that life and death are interchangeable in their world, that honor matters more than staying alive, and that by the time they are teens, every Fremen has had to kill someone.

Naturally, Paul does win, and then witnesses the Fremen funeral custom firsthand. Jamis’ body is rendered for its water in a “death still”, and the tribe all gets a share. This process is a very important aspect of the Fremen culture, and – do I really need to say it? – it was left out of the original movie! Yep, not even a mention, all skipped in order to get to the next important thing. I should also mention that one of the reasons this part is so important is because that it is after Jamis’ water is rendered and distributed that Paul and Jessica are officially welcomed into the tribe, and he must choose a Fremen name. It is here that he chooses the name Muad’Dib, mainly because he had a run in with a desert mouse earlier and felt it was significant. Once Stilgar tells him what the mouse is called, Paul immediately recognizes it from his visions. It’s the name he hears the masses of Fremen calling… his vision is now unfolding! Speaking of visions, Jessica also speaks to Stilgar about the spectacle she just witnessed. He confides to her that someday, Paul may have to call him out too. Nobody recognizes leadership in Fremen society without the challenge of combat, and Stilgar feels that Paul may very well be the savior they’ve been told to expect. Therefore, the only way he can lead them, is literally over Stilgar’s dead body!

Anyhoo, Act II then moves about detailing the various aspects of Fremen society. We see how Kynes ecological plans for the planet were being carried out at every sietch. Each one has its own moisture traps for accumulating water, each one is busy growing species of plants and grass which they will use to turn the desert into savannahs and grasslands soon. Paul also learns that Kynes (Liet) was Chani’s father, and the two begin to bond over their shared losses. Again, because there were no time constraints, Harris was able to cover everything that happened in the book, and does so in a way that is well-paced and subtle, never telling the audience too much or how the characters are feeling. We can tell how just by watching them! Incidentally, Paul is also plagued by more visions, which are becoming more vivid and intense with each passing day. But in the meantime, he and his mother begin to exploit the Fremen legends, with Paul proposing to the naibs (leaders) of every sietch that they send him their warriors so he and his mother can train them in the Weirding Way. This way, they can form an elite fighting force – the Fedaykin – that will destroy the Harkonnens and usher in the golden age Liet foresaw. A force that will rival even the dreaded Imperial Sardaukar! Naturally, the naibs are intrigued, and recruits begin to pour in!

Meanwhile, Irulan and the Baron are conducting schemes of their own. Irulan is busy trying to find out exactly what happened the night of the attack on Arrakis, specifically if her father happened to be involved, and whether or not Paul and his mother were truly killed. Stories are beginning to circulate from Arrakis of a new person, a Muad’Dib who is turning the Fremen of the deep desert into a force to be reckoned with. We can see the writing on the wall here, how her fascination is actually a growing suspicion that Paul and his mother are alive. She is also made privy to a private discussion that takes place in the royal place between one of the Guild representatives and the Reverend Mother. It seems the Navigators are also concerned about Arrakis, because their visions are all centered on that place. It has become a nexus in their limited prescience, but beyond this nexus, they cannot see. The future is unclear… Wooooo! More intrigue, and more indications that some serious shit is about to go down on the desert planet and someone or some thing very powerful is behind it. And of course, both parties conspire to do what they can to deal with this problem. “The spice must flow”, “The balance of power must be maintained”, as they say.

And the Baron, back on Geidi Prime, confides in Feyd that he left Raban (the brutal idiot of his two nephews) to run the planet because he knows he will make a mess of it and Feyd will have to come in and clean it up. In the process, Feyd will look like the hero and the population will be more compliant. He is then forced to divulge his full plot after Feyd tries to assassinate him using one the Barons boys as a Trojan horse (poison needle on the inside of his leg, very scheming!) The Baron, of course, survives the attempt and tells Feyd that he should kill him as punishment, but can’t because he needs at least one heir who’s not a sadistic moron. Basically, he doesn’t intend to let Feyd take over Arrakis anytime soon. Instead, he wants Raban to keep screwing up so the Emperor will have to intervene, in the process being forced to travel away from the royal palace to the fringes of civilization, where he can be reached! So, Feyd concludes, the move against Duke Leto was just a prelude to moving in on the royal throne itself, and since he wants in, he promises to behave himself. The Baron is pleased, and finishes the scene with a rhyming couplet: “Let the Emperor mock House Harkonnen and call us swine. For the in the end, his throne will be mine!” All class!

As I think I already mentioned, in the novel this conflict between the Baron and Feyd were being fueled by Thufir, as was the Baron’s plotting against the Emperor. This was his revenge for what they did to Leto, his friend and master. However, in the miniseries, the Baron and Feyd are doing this of their own accord, plotting and scheming without the need for outside help. While I did not like the way Thufir was minimized at first, I could see the wisdom in how Harrison chose to do it. By minimizing Thufir, he gave more credit to the Baron, Feyd, and even Irulan as players in the all the schemes. And right or wrong, this worked pretty well. For one, it made the Baron more credible and made the conflict between Feyd and him more real (chip off the old block, trying to kill his own uncle!). It also gave Irulan some credit for uncovering it bit by bit.

Alas, part II concludes with some very important, and poignant, scenes. The first involves the local Reverend Mother, a Bene Gesserit missionary who’s joined the Fremen, who comes to see Jessica and warn her of the troubles that are coming. Like all Bene Gesserit, she knows what the Fremen legends are and how she and her son have been exploiting them, and lets her know that in so doing, things could backfire horribly. More foreshadowing for the audience to munch on! Then we get Paul and Chani going out into the desert where she tutors him on the subject of the worms and the spice, another nice, paced piece of expository info, right before they duck into a private tent to consummate their budding romance! Hot! But more significance follows when Paul has a dream where the Reverend Mother comes to him and leaves him with a cryptic message. “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows not far behind. You are the Kwisatz Hadderach, boy. The one who can be many places at once. You are the whirlwind…” This line is paraphrased from the novel, which in its original form was much more verbose (like the litany against fear). Like many other elements in this installment, it establishes a great deal of suspense for the final act. What’s more, it is the first time the term has been used in the series. More evidence of slow pacing and gradual revelation.

To clinch things off, we see Irulan go to Geidi Prime for Feyd’s birthday, where she seduces him and pumps him for information. In the course of boasting about their victory, he confirms that the Harkonnen’s never saw the bodies of Paul or his mother, thus adding weight to her suspicions. What is missing from this scene, at least when compared to the original novel, is where the Baron and Fenrig begin talking about the Harkonnen’s rule of Arrakis and what the Baron intends to do there. In the novel, the Baron accidentally slips that he intends to follow the Emperor’s example and use the planet as a prison/training grounds for his troops. Fenrig is visibly disturbed by this, because its something the Emperor was worried about (remember the various hints?) But in the miniseries, they leave this out at this point, leaving it to Irulan to mention later as a reason for why the Baron is letting the planet go to hell. Not sure why they did it this way, possibly because they chose not to go with the “Thufir playing the Baron” plot arc, possibly to make the Baron seem more cunning, or maybe just as part of their attempts to pad Irulan’s role. Either way, it was a change, but it still worked without disrupting the flow of the story. And finally, there’s the final scene of Act II where the Reverend Mother knows she near death and passes on her title to Jessica. She in turn, takes the water of life in the big ritual, becomes a true Reverend Mother, and her unborn daughter Alia becomes “preborn” in the process. To celebrate, the entire seitch engages in a big orgy, as is their custom. During this spice-induced ritual, Paul also experiences a terrible vision where he sees fields of dead people and his hands covered in their blood. A fitting end for the second act because it ties in with all the other bits of foreshadowing we’ve been fed up until this point. We now know that Paul’s fate is to be a great leader, but that it will come with a great cost, mainly in terms of lives.

Thus ends Act II. Tune in again for the final installment on the Dune miniseries!

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