The trouble with sequels…

Once again I find myself ridiculously tired. I really need to stop doing this to myself. Getting on a sleep schedule is a good thing, don’t you know? The weather has been really weird, too. One day it’s moderately warm, and then the next day it’s cold enough to form frost on windows and grass. Weatherman have forecast snow for later this week.

Naturally the grocery stores are going mad.

Black Friday...apocalypse style.
Black Friday…apocalypse style.

Because the snow is coming. And it’s coming for YOU.

Oh, that could have been a lot funnier.

Anyway, I think the weather is affecting my mood. I’ve been up and down just like the thermometer. One day I’m up and smiling and happy, the next day I can’t be bothered. Work might have something to do with it. I know my writing has suffered. One minute I was all geared up for GRIMMAULD and now….well, I’m getting back into the swing of things.

Soundtracking my mood has been Queensryche’s Operation: Mindcrime and Operation: Mindcrime II, the eighteen year later sequel.  I fell in love with Operation: Mindcrime when a friend showed me the live show on youtube. Downloading the album was, naturally, the next step. I found out about Operation: Mindcrime II from the same friend and decided to take a look, and a listen, and see if it was worth the $11.99 on iTunes.

I made the mistake of looking at the reviews when I was listening to the tracks. Some were good, some were bad, some where mediocre and others were lamenting the loss of a great era of music and shaming the band for even trying to come up with a sequel for what is possibly ‘the greatest rock opera of all time’.

Buy it. Listen to it. Love it.
Buy it. Listen to it. Love it.

From Wikipedia:

The album begins with the protagonist, Nikki, in a hospital. He lies in a near catatonic state, unable to remember anything but snippets from his past. Suddenly, Nikki’s memories come flooding back in a torrent. He remembers how, as a heroin addict and would-be political radical frustrated with contemporary society, he was manipulated into joining a supposed secret organization dedicated to revolution. At the head of this organization is a political and religious demagogue known only as Dr. X, who by manipulating Nikki through a combination of his heroin addiction and brainwashing techniques, uses Nikki as an assassin. Whenever Dr. X uses the word “mindcrime” Nikki becomes his docile puppet, a state which Dr. X uses to command Nikki to undertake any murder that the Doctor wishes. Through one of Dr. X’s probable associates, a corrupt priest named Father William, Nikki is offered the services of a prostitute-turned-nun named Sister Mary. Through his friendship and growing affection toward Sister Mary, Nikki begins to question the nature of what he is doing. Dr. X notices this and, seeing a potential threat in Mary, orders Nikki to kill both her and the priest. Nikki goes to Mary’s church and kills the priest, but after confronting Mary fails to comply with the command to murder her. He and Mary decided to leave the organization together, and Nikki goes to Dr. X to tell him that they are out. Dr. X, however, reminds Nikki that he is an addict, and that he is the one who can provide him with his daily fix. Nikki leaves, conflicted and returns to Mary, only to find her dead. He cannot cope with the loss, as well as the possibility that he himself may have killed her and not known it, and begins to succumb to insanity. He runs through the streets calling her name. The Police arrive and attempt to subdue him. A gun is found on him, and they take him into custody under suspicion of Mary’s murder and the murders he committed for Dr. X. Suffering from complete loss of memory he is put into a hospital, where he sees a news report on the recent spree of political homicides. This jogs his memory and returns us to the beginning where he remembers what has happened and begins to tell his story.

It took me a few times of listening to the album to fully understand the story. Told through music, a rock opera doesn’t have spoken lines to help the audience along. Broadway shows and Hollywood adaptations are a different animal. In a rock opera, you have to listen to the lyrics and use your imagination to fill in the gaps.  Of course, fan websites are a huge help for those who want to know the story. This one is particularly detailed, and wonderfully helpful.

Operation: Mindcrime is a masterpiece of music. It is, in turns, angry and desperately sad, ending in tragedy as operas are wont to do. The duet between Mary and Nikki (Suite Sister Mary) is a brilliant turning point for the story, where Nikki realises that he is in love and there’s more to life than what Dr. X has to offer. Sister Mary comes to her own conclusions about Nikki and her own life. Tragedy sends Nikki to despair. Later songs (Breaking the Silence/I Don’t Believe In Love) give a glimpse into Nikki’s madness and his desperation to cope with his loss.

And then there were two. Given the success of Operation: Mindcrime, Queensryche decided to go for a sequel.

A sequel.

If you’re like me the word brings up a myriad of images.

Remember these guys?
Remember these guys?

Disney has made a business out of direct-to-DVD sequels. There were, what? Three Aladdin movies? Four? Each progressively worse than the last. Some stories were meant to be only one.

You knew it was coming.
You knew it was coming.

Anyway, the trouble with sequels is that, well, they’re sequels. Everyone goes into a sequel with a preconceived notion of the first. If the first was awesome, the sequel damn well better blow me out of the water.

Except this. This shouldn't have happened.
Except this. This shouldn’t have happened.

The same happened with Operation: Mindcrime II. Fans went in with the awesome of Operation: Mindcrime in their heads. No doubt when the release of the album was announced there was a mass return to CD players or iTunes to remind them of how Mindcrime sounded.  That, I think, ruined it for many. Eighteen years is a long time to return to an old story.

And that’s where judgement becomes unfair. Mindcrime II is just as complex as Mindcrime.

The story picks up 18 years after the events of Operation: Mindcrime, on the day that Nikki is released from prison. During his incarceration, Nikki has been unable to let go of his hatred for Dr. X, who has since become rich and powerful. Nikki still harbors resentment against the American government, which he still views as corrupt and beyond saving. The training (or brainwashing) he received from Dr. X still has a strong hold over Nikki, but he is conflicted nonetheless. While he still feels the need to carry out his revolutionary mission, his thoughts drift to Mary.

Nikki lands himself in trouble with the law once again, and at his trial his pleas for mercy and leniency are lost on a judge and jury still remembering his past crimes. This only deepens his disdain for the government, the legal system and Dr. X, whom he blames for all of his problems. After Nikki escapes and finds himself yet again on the run from the law, his own need for revenge coupled by a vision of Mary’s ghost turns his thoughts toward killing Dr. X.

As a confrontation gets closer, Nikki starts to have doubts. He questions himself and wonders if it isn’t really his own fault that his life is as bad as it is. Nikki does finally track down Dr. X and kills him. Wondering whether the killing has really made anything better, Nikki becomes further consumed by doubt and despair. The ghost of Mary appears again and angrily exhorts Nikki to kill himself. He starts to think that he is insane and commits suicide. As the album ends, Nikki’s spirit is reunited with Mary’s, and together they reflect that the only times they were happy were in the moments they were together.

In writing, a sequel isn’t about being better than the first. A sequel is the continuation of a story. Whether it’s in the middle of a trilogy or the end of a duet, the sequel has to come full circle to the first. It has to end two books, not just one. The same goes for a third, if the fancy so strikes you. If one tries to outshine the other, if the author tries to make the second better than the first, the book can feel contrived and poor. When someone tries too hard, it shows.

The trick to sequels is satisfaction. A bad book is going to be a bad book, no matter what. But a good book is going to be made better, if the ending satisfies the readers need for conclusion. Leave me hanging, and it’ll just piss me off. Make the story come full circle, and I’ll be a happy camper. Maybe I hated the book, but at least I can be satisfied that the end justified the means.

(P.S., if you’re looking for a great set of books this lady will hook you up. For less than the price of a latte.)

Operation Mindcrime II is a brilliant album, detailing the torn mind of an assassin and betrayed lover through music that is as conflicted as the protagonist himself.  The lyrics are complex, though without Geoff Tate’s squeal that gave Mindcrime its anger. Resignation, dominates Mindcrime II. It’s a ballad rather than a call to arms. A masterpiece of storytelling in its own right.

My only problem? The end. Nikki commits suicide, the two lovers are reunited and……that’s it. It’s like the damn Sopranos all over again. Black screen, thank you ladies and gentlemen, goodnight!

Still worth the $11.99, no matter what the haters or the disappointed die-hards say. Come into it with an open mind and be wonderfully surprised.


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