Technology in the Dune Universe

Hello again techies and social studies experts! I’m sorry, I assume those are the only two kinds of people who would enjoy these posts 😉 Regardless, I love doing them, mainly because it gives me a chance to exercise a little critical thinking when it comes to some of the most popular franchises of science fiction.

And today, I thought I’d tackle the bid baddy of classic sci-fi, Mr. Frank Herbert himself. Whereas most writers in this expansive genre tend to take a highly positive or negative view, Herbert distinguished himself by being highly subtle, ambiguous and multilayered in his approach.

Far from saying technology would save humanity, or condemn it, he seemed to be arguing that it really wouldn’t alter our basic makeup and behavior. That, presumably, would only come with thousands of years of natural evolution, selective breeding and funky narcotics!

But I digress, here are some examples of the technologies that characterized the Dune universe:

Atomics:
stoneburnerEvery house in the Dune universe keeps a nuclear arsenal in reserve. However, since the Great Convention forbids their use in war, and anyone found in dereliction would guarantee their own obliteration, they are not employed. Everybody’s got em, nobody uses em! At least not anymore…

Their last known use occurred on Selusa Secundus many years before the events of the first novel. It was here that a rogue house employed several in an attempt to destroy House Corrin. The attempt failed and the house was eradicated, their name erased from history. Unfortunately, Selusa Secundus was left a radioactive ruin, hence why it was converted to serve as the Emperor’s prison planet.

However, one type of nuclear device is still legal under the Great Convention. Known as a Stone Burner, these devices emit powerful J-radiation that destroys eye-tissue, rendering everyone in the blast vicinity blind. However, their primary function is to burn through a planet’s crust. If they are powerful enough, they are able to burn clean through to a planet’s core and destroy them planet from within.

Axlotl Tank:
2007-8-18_DuneAxlotlTankThough widely used in the Dune universe, axlotl technology is also one of its most mysterious. A trade secret of the Tleilaxu, an axlotl tank is a “device for reproducing a living human being from the cells of a cadaver,” resulting in what is known as a ghola. In addition, the Tleilaxu Masters use these tanks in order to produce clones of themselves and keep their line going.

As the series progresses, axlotl tanks began being used to produce the spice melange, which had previously only been available on Arrakis. In time, it was also revealed that axlotl tanks were in fact Tleilaxu females, women whose bodies had been converted to grow gholas, clones and spice inside their wombs.

Guild Heighliner:
Dune_heighlinerThe principal means of interstellar transport in the Dune universe, a heighliner is a Guild ship that is capable of transporting massive amounts of people and cargo. Powered by the Holtzman Drive (see below) the ship is capable of “folding space” – jumping from one point in space-time to the next – instantaneously.

Each Guild Heighliner comes with its own navigator, a Guild mutant who uses their semi-prescient abilities to see through space and time to chart a safe rout for the ship to fly. The navigators do all this from inside their giant tanks where they remain immersed in spice gas.

Holtzman Drive:
foldspaceThis is the technology that allows Guild Heighliners to fold space, thus traveling instantaneously form one point in the universe to another. Using what is known as the “Holtzman Effect”, the same phenomena that powers personal shields as well as the catastrophic effect when one comes into contact with the beam of a lasgun.

Though it is never explained in detail, some hints are given throughout the series as to what principles of physics may be involved. For example, in Chapterhouse: Dune, an allusion was made to tachyon particles, the theoretical particle that can presumably travel faster than light.

Lasgun:
lasgunThe appendix of the first Dune novel, titled Terminology of the Imperium, defines Lasgun as follows:

continuous-wave laser projector. Its use as a weapon is limited in a field-generator-shield culture because of the explosive pyrotechnics (technically, subatomic fusion) created when its beam intersects a shield.

At one time, these directed energy weapons were the mainstay of Imperial armed forces. However, the development of shields meant that their use had to become more selective. Mounted on ships, ornithopters, and carried by infantry, lasguns remain a highly effective weapon, capable of cutting through any material.

No-Chamber/No-Ship:
ixian_noshipThis technology was first mentioned in God Emperor of Dune and took the form of a No-Chamber. This Ixian invention was basically a chamber that was cloaked in a stealth field which blocked it from prescient vision as well as more conventional means of detection.

After the death of Leto II, this technology was expanded to include No-Ships and even No-Globes. The former were basically heighliners which were equipped with no-fields and the Ixian machine which did the job of a Guild Navigator. In essence, these ships were not only sheilded from prescient vision, but were invisible to sensors and even the naked eye.

No-Globes were an even larger version of the technology, capable of covering an entire planet in a no-field and rendering it both invisible to prescience, invisible to the naked eye and undetectable. However, in Heretics of Dune and Chapterhouse: Dune, it is suggested that those of Atreides ancestry are capable of seeing through no-fields. This proved to be the case when Miles Teg was awakened to his abilities after being examined with an Ixian T-probe. His ghola also had this ability once he was awakened to his past memories.

Ornithopter:
dune_thopter1In the Dune universe, ornithopters (or ‘thopters) are the principle means of planetary transportation. Combining jet thrusters with articulated wings, the thopter is capable of vertical takeoff and landing, making it one of the most versatile flying machines ever invented.

Though most are used for commercial and personnel transport, thopters are also capable of being militarized, and often are. Armed missiles, bombs, lasguns, and even shields, they are most effective when used in an assault and/or supporting role.

Personal Shields:
Holtzmanshields-Dune1984The Terminology of the Imperium defines them as follows: the protective field produced by a Holtzman generator. This field derives from Phase One of the suspensor-nullification effect. A shield will permit entry only to objects moving at slow speeds (depending on setting, this speed ranges from six to nine centimeters per second) and can be shorted out only by a shire-sized electric field.

While these shields can be mounted on aircraft, vehicles and even large structures, the most common use is in the form of personal shielding units. These are worn by infantry for battle or for the sake of combat training in order to prevent serious injury. The introduction of this technology to the battlefield had a regressionary effect on warfare in that it forced troops to largely abandon energy and ballistic weapons in favor of hand to hand combat. Hence why swords and knives are commonly used in the Dune universe.

Stillsuit:
stillsuitThe trade secret of the Fremen! Stillsuits, as the name suggests, are a water reclamation and purification system that are worn by the desert-dwelling nomads whenever they are out on the sand dunes. Powered by the motion of it’s user, which includes foot-pumps mounted in the suit’s heels, the system turns all water loss – perspiration, urination, even feces – into usable water which they can draw from a tube near their mouth.

Given water’s scarcity on Arrakis, the purpose of these suits is clear. By preventing moisture loss and recycling it into useable water, they ensure that a person out in the open can sustain themselves indefinitely in the extremely dry and hot desert environment. As Doctor Kynes himself remarked: “With a Fremen suit in good working order, you won’t lose more than a thimbleful of moisture a day..”

Conclusions:
When it comes to science fiction franchises, one can tell a lot by the technology, big and small, that are all part of the background. And when looks over these examples of technology in the Dune universe, a few things become abundantly clear right away:

  1. The connection between environment and invention: Because the bulk of the story takes place on Arrakis, much of the technology we see was specifically adapted for desert use. Shields were useless in the desert environment, turbofans often broke down from dust and sand, and even massive crawlers were at risk of being consumed by Sandworms. In short, all the advanced technology of the Imperium was either useless or subject to hazards from the desert and its creatures. In the end, the most basic inventions, stillsuits and thumpers, were best suited to ensure survival. In short, those technologies who worked with the environment instead of against it were the most likely to work. More indications followed, such as how Paul’s father said to him that “On Caladan we ruled by sea and air power, but here on Arrakis, you need desert power.” On the one hand, this would seem to indicate that every planetary environment required its own balance of technology, Caladan being a sea planet meant ships and aircraft were the weapons of choice. On the other, he seemed to be alluding to the fact that rule on Arrakis required the allegiance of those who knew the desert best (i.e. the Fremen)
  2. Technology as regressive as well as progressive:This is something that I found particularly intriguing about the Dune universe, which was how it combined medievalism and futurism. On the one hand, humans have perfected interstellar travel and have colonized millions of planets throughout the galaxy. On the other, they fight with swords, knives, and live under a feudal system of government. As the story progresses, two reasons are given for why this is:
    1. After the Bulterian Jihad, the Great Convention established that no thinking machines or anything resembling them would ever be created again. As Leto II remarked in GEOD: “The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines… Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments.” In short, the purpose of the Great Convention was not just to ban AI’s but the very mentality that had created them. Thenceforth, the very concept of industrial dependence was to be banned. And as Duncan Idaho later observed, such an economy was the basis for unlimited consumption and growing social equality. This ideal, borne of the Industrial Revolution, was also the cause of social chaos and the eventual rise of AI’s. By banning these and the system that ensured their creation, humanity was effectively going back to a time where feudal control by a small group of barons was basically necessary.
    2. The Great Convention also forbade the use of atomics. This meant that war had to be conventional from now on. The advent of shields also meant that energy weapons were no longer advisable, which meant that soldiers were further forced to adapt to conventional means of fighting – i.e. hand to hand combat. Swords, knives, and slow-pellet stunners were now mainstays of modern warfare, not by choice, but by necessity.

All of this leads to conclude that Frank Herbert was a freaking genius, or at least possessed a very complicated intellect. Whereas most science fiction and speculative writers tend to take a positive or negative view of technology, he preferred to take a very historic and ambiguous view of it. Setting his story in the distant future, one would immediately get the impression that humanity would be so highly evolved that it no longer resembled humanity of today.

However, Frank showed us a universe where humans were not only very much like they are today but also retained elements from our past. Much like the world of today, people are dependent on a single resource, are subject to petty rivalries, and a morally dubious system. But like the world of yesteryear, they are ruled by dukes, barons, emperors, and a system of entitlement and gross privilege and view democracy as a threatening sham.

One can only assume that Frank was making the point that human nature will not change as a result of technological innovation or space travel. Sure, AI’s and cybernetics might emerge down the road, giving humanity the ability to enhance their bodies and thought processes. But Frank’s take on this was that humans would naturally revolt against these once they came to the conclusion that they were needlessly complicated people’s lives.

So in the end, the only way out of being human was to create “mature humanity” as the Bene Gesserit said. This consisted of selective breeding and organic enhancement, relentlessly training people to strengthen their minds, bodies, and unlock the mysteries of the brain, eventually culminating in a person who could not only access their genetic memory, but merge space and time in their own mind. Interesting… and freaky!

Well, my mind is blown and I got nothing more to say. Stay tuned for something else, assuming I can overcome the effects of venturing into Frank’s head space. Man, it’s weird and awesome in there, kind of like a spice trance!

Dune, the miniseries (Part III)

We come at last to Part III and the final act of the Dune miniseries! Been a long time in coming, and funny thing is, I tried to do all in one post. Now here I am breaking it into four just so I can cover the original movie and the miniseries faithfully. But as I’ve said many times before, the book is long and dense, and requires lots of time and space to do it justice. Wow, is there some weird weird esoteric shit going on here? Are all these posts visually demonstrating how length is the difference between success and failure here?

Sorry about that, I think my latest batch of moonshine’s got some weird properties… making me talk funny! Let’s just get to the third act and wrap this baby up!

The final act opens on an attack being made by the Fremen on the city of Arrakeen, capitol of Arrakis. We see Paul as he’s overseeing this attack, now a full 17 years of age and hardened by desert life and the gift of his prescience. At this point in the story, they’ve been waging their war against the Harkonnen’s for a full two years now and things are finally coming to a head. The Harkonnen’s forces no longer go into the desert, the Fremen has free reign there, and are basically trapped inside the capitol while the Fedaykin strike at them with impunity. Paul stands on the edge of achieving his revenge and the Fremen are on the verge of receiving their messiah. But first, a few things need to happen before they can make their final assault and Paul can become the Mahdi. In order to become a true leader, Paul must ride the worm and assume control over Fremen tribe in the desert (at some point, this will involve calling Stilgar out, as hinted at earlier). And to become a true prophet, he must take the Water of Life.

What’s good about the miniseries at this point is that they take the time to flesh out the events that took place in this time. In the novel they were talked about, but not shown. We skip from the point where Jessica becomes the Reverend Mother to where Paul is riding the worm and all that happens in between is described but not shown. But here, in order to provide additional pacing and keep the audience up to speed, we have several scenes which were both important and well executed. One is where Irulan, upon returning from Geidi Prime, begins to share her suspicions with her father, and I can honestly say its one of the best scenes in the entire series. It begins with her father pointing out how the Baron is loosing men on Arrakis and pleading for help. And replies by indicating that the kill-loss rate is a clear indication of how superior the Fremen fighters are. She then ventures that the only reason the Baron would allow Raban (who is clearly incompetent) to deal with this problem is because he has a plan to enlist the Fremen, and that he is grooming his nephew to take over. Hearing this, Irulan and Fenrig finally say flat out what’s been hinted at repeatedly throughout the series. “(Ten million people)… toughened by conditions worse than your own prison planet, father…” “The Baron would have a force to rival even your dreaded Sardaukar…” Fenrig is impressed, but Irulan concludes the scene with an obvious declaration. “My father can handle the Baron… it’s this Muad’Dib that I’m curious about.” Aka. she’s almost positive its Paul!

We also get to see Paul and his mother talk about the path he’s on, something that was quite important and never really included in the book. She expresses concern that Paul is beginning to believe in the legends they’ve been exploiting, to which he counters with another legend: the Kwisatz Haderach. Again, the name is dropped, Paul explains how the Reverend Mother came to him in a dream and told him. Jessica then explains what the Bene Gesserit had planned, what the KH was supposed to be. Now the audience, having been primed, knows exactly what the KH is, and what this means for Paul. Jessica says that she only gave the Duke a son out love, that she never meant to give birth to “a God”. But alas, we can see that even she’s not sure who Paul is anymore…

In between all this, we get the important stuff that did make it into the book. For one, we see Paul ride the worm for the first time. He knew he would have to do this eventually, due in part to all the Fremen warriors who have come to challenge him over the years, and to the fact that sooner or later, he will have to demonstrate this ability if he’s going to lead the Fremen. The scene where he does this is certainly cool, better than the original because its not so over the top (aka. no internal monologues, no really epic music, just a high-energy scene that’s faithful). It also ends with a fitting reminder: now that Paul has shown he can command the worm, there’s the little matter of him and Stilgar. If he’s to lead, he will have to best him in combat… Paul is clearly saddened by this realization, and you can see it. But for the moment, they’re riding a damn worm! Not to the time to be worrying about other things!

We also see Paul’s reunion with Stilgar. Earlier on in the series, he saw him working with smugglers, a preview of their eventual encounter. During an ambush, Paul recognizes him and the bring him and his men back to the sietch where they Paul asks him to enlist with him and his Fremen. “I never left your side,” he says, predictably. Good ol’ Gurney! But of course, he is surprised to hear Jessica is alive, and suspects SHE was the traitor. Then, in a scene which never made it into the movie, he confronts with her with his knife drawn, bad Gurney! But of course, Paul and Jessica talk him down once they reveal that it was Yueh and why he did it. Everything is resolved… though Gurney obviously feels like a douche! We also get a gander at Paul’s son who was born in the preceding two years and see the blossoming relationship that’s taking place between Chani and Jessica. These are not just filler, they preview the decision Paul will have to make, the same one his father made. For the sake of politics, the Duke never married Jessica, thus ensuring he could marry the Lady of another house and create and alliance. Paul, it has been hinted at, may have to do the same at some point. Hence, Chani will also be only ever be a consort in title, but in reality, will be his true love.

But the real money is in the palace scenes where the Baron is summoned and makes excuses for his inability to crush the Fremen rebellion. His exact words were said later in the novel, when the Emperor showed up on Arrakis demanding answers. The effect of this was to make the latter chapters feel rushed; putting it sooner in the series, before the Emperor decided to intervene, was a good idea on Harrison’s part because it helped with the pacing. It also makes the Emperor’s eventual intervention seem that much more justified. But alas, the lines: “Your majesty, these people are mad! They women throw their babies at us! They hurl themselves onto our weapons to open a wedge for their men to attack… I could wipe the planet clean of the entire race, but then there’d be no one left to mine the spice. It’s a terrible dilemma…” The Emperor, naturally, is unconvinced. The Guild and the Bene Gesserit, fearing what Muad’Dib represents, want him to intervene, and Fenrig points out that they can’t attack the Baron directly because of their past involvement together. I.e. he secretly helped the Baron destroy House Atreides, can’t have that coming out! So the Emperor decides to send the palace to Arrakis, along with the armies of every major house. He’ll deal with the Fremen rebellion first and the Baron later.

And then, Paul takes the Water of Life! The experience almost kills him, and the scene is detailed and long, reflecting its true importance. In the original movie, it was quick and rushed, Paul did it and it was over. In truth, the experience was nearly fatal, and having come through it, Paul now knows he’s the Kwisatz Haderach, his visions are complete. He sees the future and all the terrible things he will do, but now knows they are necessary and inevitable. He also sees that the Emperor and the great houses are coming! War is upon them at last! When he announces this to the Fremen, they know at last that he is truly their prophet, and demand he call out Stilgar. Paul refuses, saying that their ways must change and he will not cripple himself by sacrificing his best warriors. To resolve this impasse, he declares that he is not their naib, but their Duke! In other words, he asserts his royal claim over the planet and asks for their loyalty, and they give it!

The time has come at last to mount their assault on Arrakeen, now that the Emperor is there! This was apparently the point in holding back. If they took the capitol before the Emperor and his legions were on the ground, the Emperor could always attack and retake the planet. This way, he will defeat both the Emperor and the Harkonnen’s in one blow, and dictate terms to them. But… there’s one more card he needs. He hints at this by telling Othyem, one of his loyal Fedaykin, to take a supply of changed Water of Life to a large pre-spice mass. Otheym knows what this means, and is aghast, but obeys. We don’t… yet, but we can tell its significant. We’re getting the impression that this is the whole “You alone know what I can do!” that Paul said in the original movie. Good! I was wondering… Paul takes the time to bury his father’s remains in a Fremen tomb, and has one final conversation with his mother about the future. She is afraid, naturally, but Paul has become fatalistic about the whole thing. It must be, and he has no qualms anymore because as he says “there aren’t any innocents anymore!” Paul then takes this opportunity to reveal to hes mother that he knows her ancestry. She’s a Harkonnen, and therefore so is he! Cruelty is natural to them, as is nobility. Because of this, he has everything he needs to be the KH, and it’s the perfect irony. The Bene Gesserit wanted someone like him so they could control things, but since they couldn’t control Jessica, she’s changed everything. But has arrived before his time, and the consequences they were told to expect are now here! Bad things will happen, bad, necessary things. A shocking revelation! And perfectly timed since its act III and the attack is about to come.

But, true to the original story, the Sardaukar attack sietch Tabr, where Paul and his family have been living for the past two years, and murder Paul’s son! They also take Alia hostage, the bloody bastards! Paul knows his son is dead just before they mount their attack, rather than hearing about it in the course of it – as happened in the novel, which was weird! Like most of what Herbert wrote in act III, it kind of felt he was rushing towards the climax, getting that writer’s itch to draw things to a close! I know the feeling… But, important here, Alia being taken hostage puts her inside the palace and before the Emperor, where she can deliver her messages to him and the Mother Superior who is there with him. She sees her and recognizes her as “the abomination the ancients warned us about”, i.e. a preborn child, which the BG’s naturally fear. Irulan also connects all the dots now that she has Muad’Dib’s sister before them. She is Atreides in appearance, hence Muad’Dib is Paul! Everyone is breathless!

And then, boom! Paul attacks! Again(!), this battle scene is a lot more impressive here than the in the original movie. Not because of special effects, but because its much more drawn out and the camera gets around. We see fighting in the city, fighting in the desert, at a distance and at close quarters, not just a bunch of Fremen shooting down Sardaukar from the backs of sandworms. What’s more, its true and detailed to the story. They use a tactical nuke to blow up the natural shield wall that protects Arrakeen from the terrible sandstorms, the ensuing storm neutralizes the palace shields, and then, they attack with the worms and take down the Sardaukar and Harkonnen armies! And of course, while scrambling, Alia stabs the Baron with the Atreides gom jabbar (a poison needle), thus killing the bastard! And in the ensuing scene where Paul has his defeated foes before him and is dictating terms, the miniseries takes the time to explain exactly what Paul can do and how he will do it… if he’s not obeyed.

As I said in the Dune movie review, Paul has not truly won at this point. Though the Emperor’s legions are dead and the Harkonnen’s defeated, the Emperor still has the armies of the royal houses to call in. Paul tells them, don’t bother! His men are in the desert over a pre-spice mass with changed Water of Life, which is fatal to the worms, and ready to introduce it in. This will destroy this mass, but also create a cycle of death amongst the sandworms as they spread it to other spice masses and other worms. All the worms will die, and hence all spice production will end; civilization will end! And, classic line to top it off: “If I am not obeyed… the spice will not flow!” So naturally, Irulan intervenes and suggests she be married to Paul, giving him the throne and staving off disaster. But not before Feyd offers his own solution: a knife fight! It all looks hopeless when Feyd is about to slip Paul a poison needle (the cheater!) but Paul manages to whisper to Feyd that they are cousins! The momentary distraction gives Paul the edge to slip away from the needle and he slips the knife in his throat. Then… (again!) faithful to the novel, and (again!) way better than the original, Paul snubs Irulan, his wife to be, stands before Chani and looks at her lovingly, and Jessica concludes the whole thing with a voiceover (Irulan style): “Let us hope she finds solace in her writing and her books, she’ll have little else. She may have my son’s name, but it is we, who carry the name of concubine, that history will call… wives.”

And that’s the full tamale! All three acts, one big miniseries, one REALLY deep novel! And alas, the creators didn’t stop there. With Frank Herbert’s Dune garnering such high ratings for the Sci Fi channel, it wasn’t long before they tackled books II and III, combining them into a single miniseries named Children of Dune. I shan’t get into that one though, that’s something for another day, a long time from now! In the meantime, let me just conclude by reiterating everything I loved about THIS miniseries. The direction and pacing were great, the acting solid, and with the exceptions of Thufir and Duncan, the characters well-developed and fleshed out. The plot and execution were also faithful to the original, improving it on it in many cases, especially where revelations and twists were concerned. All of this was great in its own right, but especially so since all other attempts to adapt it to the screen failed. For the fans of the Dune franchise, this took over three decades, and Herbert himself didn’t even live to see it. Sure, it wasn’t the silver screen, who who cares? Chances are, this accomplishment was never going to happen on the big screen, and never will. The scuttlebutt says more cable adaptations are in the works, with God Emperor of Dune (Book IV) on the way, and possibly even another attempt at the big-screen. But we’ll leave that to history…

Frank Herbert’s Dune:
Entertainment Value: 8/10 (not recommended for people with short attention spans or special effects fetishes!)
Plot: 10/10 (Yo!)
Direction: 9/10
Total: 9/10

No endnotes! Ya’ll should know what’s what by now! 😉

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!