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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Honour Among Thieves (Review)

Honour Among Thieves is effectively Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pitching itself as a nineties crime film.

One of the luxuries of Star Trek is the sheer flexibility of the format week-in and week-out, the capacity to tell different sorts of stories depending on the tastes of the writers. The franchise can do comedy episodes like The Trouble with Tribbles or House of Quark, political thrillers like Sins of the Father or Homefront and Paradise Lost, weird science-fiction like Whispers or Threshold. The possibilities are endless, the variety incredible. It is a remarkable flexibility, to the point that the audience is never entirely sure what genre they will end up with in a given week.

To Bilby or not to Bilby…

The writers on Deep Space Nine have long been fascinated with the darker side of the Star Trek universe, the pulpy aspect of the franchise that was largely downplayed in the Rick Berman era. Episodes like Necessary Evil played with the conventions of noir storytelling, while Whispers hinted at some postmodern paranoia. The Orion Syndicate were brought back into twenty-fourth century continuity in The Ascent. Occasionally, the strands would come together, most notably in A Simple Investigation, a cyberpunk noir that blended “net girls” with bantering assassins.

Honour Among Thieves very much continues along that evolutionary line. It picks up the Orion Syndicate thread from earlier episodes like The Ascent or A Simple Investigation. However, it also positions itself very much in the context of nineties gangster cinema. This is Deep Space Nine channelling Donnie Brasco, casting O’Brien as a mob informant finding himself sympathetic to his target.

Miles ahead of the enemy.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Retrospect (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager is a very nineties show. Sometimes that is endearing. Sometimes it is not.

Retrospect is an episode that made a great deal more sense in the context of the nineties. It was still troublesome and reactionary, structuring its central allegory in a way that was deeply problematic. However, Retrospect made a certain amount of sense when considered in light of the McMartin Preschool scandal and the satanic panic driven by regression hypnosis in the early part of the decade. Retrospect is very clearly an attempt to turn that talking point into a twenty-fourth century allegory about witch hunts and persecution.

Assimilate this…

However, there are a number of poor choices made over the course of the episode. The most obvious is build the episode around the character of Seven of Nine. There are any number of reasons why this would be written as a Seven of Nine episode, given that she is the breakout character of the fourth season. However, episodes like The Gift and The Raven have made a conscious effort to portray Seven of Nine as an abuse surviving living with genuine trauma. To put her at the centre of an episode about false allegations of abuse feels ill-judged.

Similarly, the emphasis on the subject of these accusations and his ruined life feels more than a little tone-deaf, even in the context the nineties satanic panic. Retrospect is not an episode about Seven of Nine processing abuse or even coping with distorted memories. It is ultimately the story about how the falsified accusations of abuse (from a character who is a verified abuse victim) can serve to destroy the lives of innocent men. Indeed, the emphasis on the EMH as a proxy for Seven of Nine downplays her own agency in this plot.

Memory Beta.

These aspects are troubling even in the context of an episode about the dangers of using hypnotherapy as the basis of these charges. However, the scandal has slipped from public consciousness in the years since Retrospect was initially broadcast. When the audience hears about women false accusations against men, it evokes the long-standing myth that men are frequent victims of falsified reports about sexual assault that ruin lives. This was creepy and uncomfortable subtext was obvious at time of broadcast, but has only become more pronounced in the years since.

Retrospect would have been a very clumsy and ill-judged allegory in the context of the mid-to-late-nineties. Decades removed from that original context, it seems almost reprehensible.

Blinding flash of the obvious.

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Non-Review Review: The Fast & The Furious 8 (aka The Fate of the Furious)

Seven cars crowd out an otherwise empty New York street.

In the midst of the carnage, all law-abiding citizens have taken cover. Only the outlaws remain, the powerhouses that rule the street. One black muscle car sits at the centre of this chaos. It stars menacingly at the five cars blocking its path. Behind that black car lurks the vanguard. Inside, a scruffy stubbled Englishman cracks his neck impatiently, waiting for action. The target car revs its engine. The drivers all kick into gear, and it becomes a game of reflexes.

Present and corrected.

There is an endearing charm to The Fast and the Furious as a blockbuster movie franchise. In many ways, it has become Universal’s own home-grown superhero franchise, albeit one that swaps out the capes for cars. A wry observer might suggest that the series is Diesel-powered, but that is not entirely true. The franchise runs on sheer main-lined ridiculousness, on the blurry line that falls somewhere between awesome and absurd. “High noon, but with cars…” is far from the most audacious scene in The Fast and the Furious 8, but it might be the most indicative.

Like a driver wrestling with a powerhouse engine, the series works best when it actively turns into the spin. Fast Five revived the franchise by removing the throttle and setting in motion a sense of escalation that threatens to send the characters into space before the conclusion of the series. In the meantime, The Fast and the Furious 8 settles for a neon orange Lamborghini being chased over ice by a nuclear submarine. There are points at which the whole thing threatens to fall apart like that surface ice, but the film moves just quick enough to stay above water.

Dominating Dom.

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Non-Review Review: Miss Sloane

Like its central character, Miss Sloane is an interesting beast.

The movie’s central conflict is not the clash of egos between the rival lobbyists played by Jessica Chastain and Michael Stuhlbarg. Nor is it the philosophical conflict over gun control that drives so much of the plot. It is not even the conflict of interest that bookends the movie, the clash between the democratic ideal and the pragmatic reality of contemporary politics, although that perhaps comes closest to expressing the battle raging at the heart of the film.

Miss Sloane Goes to Washington.

The crisis that plays out across Miss Sloane is the gap between the perceived gap between personal and the political. For most of the film’s runtime, the eponymous character’s motivations remain engagingly opaque. Why has the cold and rational Elizabeth Sloane taken up a cause as ill-fated as tighter gun control regulations? The characters in the movie pick at the idea. Several wonder if she knew somebody involved in some traumatic incident of gun violence. It seems impossible to reconcile the calculated decisions of this political operator with a sense of moral righteousness.

Miss Sloane cleverly plays with this idea, teasing and goading the audience across its runtime. That implied conflict between the canny lobbyist and the just cause bubbles throughout the film. Most successfully, it plays out in Jessica Chastain’s superb central performance as the eponymous character; a keen observer of human nature who often seems to be battling with herself as much as with any singular rival. However, it also plays out in the film’s conflicted tone, with Miss Sloane often at odds with itself as it tries pitch itself at the right level.

Liz and let Liz.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – One Little Ship (Review)

“It was the sixth season, so why not do it?” observes Ira Behr, providing all the rationale the writing staff needed. “How many series can do a salute to Land of the Giants, to The Incredible Shrinking Man?” he demands. “We had to do this show! We owed it to all the schlock science fiction that had come before us. If we hadn’t done it, it would have been a crime – a creative crime, and, dare I say, a crime against humanity itself. And it just became clear to me, you know? Maybe the tumour moved a silly centimeter in my brain. But we just had to do it. And that was that.”

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion

Isolinear jungle.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Prey (Review)

Prey is a fantastic piece of television, and stands as one of the best standalone episodes of the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

It is an episode built around a very simple premise, pitting two of Voyager‘s more memorable alien creations against one another and throwing a nice character arc into the midst of this epic conflict. Prey is an exciting thriller built around the established characteristics of both the Hirogen and Species 8472, using two very distinctive cultures to tell a compelling and engaging story with the regular cast thrown into the fray. “Lone Hirogen hunter pursues lost member of Species 8472” is a great hook for an episode.

Here come the big guns.

However, Prey goes even further than that. The basic plot is intriguing on its own terms, but Prey cleverly grounds the story in what we know about these characters and their dynamic. As much as Voyager is caught in the crossfire of this horrific situation, the crew are also forced to make tough decisions. How will Janeway react to a wounded member of a hostile (and nigh-invulnerable) species? How will Seven of Nine respond when asked to save the life of a creature that participated in a brutal war with the Borg Collective?

This is intriguing stuff, largely anchored in what the audience already knows of the characters and delivered with top-notch production values and a great sense of pacing. Prey is an episode that plays to all the strengths of the fourth season, from the appeal of the Hirogen and Species 8472 through to the chemistry between Kate Mulgrew and Jeri Ryan.

There’ll be hull to pay.

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Adversity in Diversity: Marvel’s Next Generation Heroes…

Much digital ink has already been spilled about the comments that David Gabriel made of the weekend.

Gabriel is the Vice-President of Sales at Marvel, and he was speaking to ICv2 about the company’s underwhelming performance in recent times. The company’s massive “All-New, All-Different” launch in late 2015 appears to have done little to stem the attrition, offering a brief boost that has not halted the decline. Addressing these concerns, Gabriel suggested one very clear reason for the audience’s lack of enthusiasm about these comics. “What we heard was that people didn’t want any more diversity. They didn’t want female characters out there.”

Gabriel’s statement has opened up a new front in the culture wars, drawing attention from a host of high-profile new sources not necessarily known for their history of comic book reporting or their understanding of the medium’s inner workings; The Guardian, The Independent, The Irish Times. In a very strange way, this was seen as real news, in a way that news inside (as opposed to “related to the multimedia franchises of”) the comic book industry rarely is. There was clearly a lot tied up in that interview given by an industry figure to an industry publication.

The reason that this story broke out so strongly is quite simple. This debate is part of a larger debate about representation in popular culture. It emerges in the same climate as the debates about cultural appropriation in Iron Fist and whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell. It arrives at a time when the public at large is increasingly attuned to the need for diversity of representation in media and diversity in talent. It was a story that was surprisingly important to a lot of people who don’t read comic books, because it resonated beyond comic books.

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