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Star Trek: Enterprise – Affliction (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The shift from episodic storytelling to a more serialised format poses all manner of challenges for the Star Trek production team.

By the time that Star Trek: Enterprise embraced long-form storytelling with The Expanse at the end of its second season, the franchise was dangerous behind the curve. During the nineties, genre shows like The X-Files, Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and Babylon 5 had demonstrated the potential of serialisation as a narrative tool. Even within this particular franchise, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had managed to strike a reasonable balance between standalone stories and the larger narrative framework.

Nothin' but Trip...

Nothin’ but Trip…

This is say nothing of the revolution taking place on a wider scale. HBO had allowed its production team to embrace the potential of long-form storytelling on late nineties shows like Oz or The Sopranos. Within a few years, the cable broadcaster had attracted considerable mainstream attention by embracing serialisation on shows like The Wire, Deadwood and Rome. In the meantime, Star Trek: Voyager had steadfastly refused to move beyond the episodic model. When Ronald D. Moore left the franchise, any experience with serialisation left with him.

As such, it is no surprise that the franchise struggled with some of the challenges posed by a serialised storytelling model. In particular, Enterprise struggled a little bit with integrating its entire ensemble into its new serialised storytelling model. Affliction and Divergence feel like an attempt to rectify this issue, with mixed results.

It's all coming together...

It’s all coming together…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Babel One (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

It seems entirely appropriate that the United trilogy sits in the middle of the fourth season.

The three-parter is not the strongest of the season’s multi-episode epics, abandoning the clean three-act structure that made the Kir’Shara trilogy so successful in favour of a disjointed two-parter-and-coda format that prevents the story from feeling as cohesive as it might. It jolts and starts, never really finding the proper flow for the story that it wants to tell. There is a sense that the production team’s desire to do both a “birth of the Federation” story and a “visit to Andoria” story within the same three-part narrative ultimately hinders the storytelling.

"What do you mean I'm not in the third part?!"

“What do you mean I’m not in the third part?!”

However, there is something satisfying in watching Star Trek: Enterprise commit to the idea of the birth of the Federation. It could be argued that this is an example of the fourth season’s continuity pandering, but the Federation is far more fundamental to the fabric of the franchise than something like Klingon foreheads or that ghost ship from that third season episode. If Enterprise is to be a prequel, it should devote some attention to building the fabric of the shared universe. The Federation is an essential part of the idealistic future of Star Trek.

However, the most compelling aspect of the United has nothing to do with continuity and history. Instead, it is simply reassuring to see Enterprise embracing the franchise’s utopianism and hope for the future, particularly in the context of January 2004.

Shran, Shran, he's our Andorian...

Shran, Shran, he’s our Andorian…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forge (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Kir’Shara trilogy is the strongest three-parter of Star Trek: Enterprise‘s fourth season. It could legitimately be argued that the Kir’Shara trilogy is the strongest story of the entire season and one of the strongest stories of the show’s four-season run.

There are a lot of reasons why this is the case. The Kir’Shara trilogy makes great use of the franchise’s continuity and history, without getting too tied down into references for the sake of references. Indeed, there is a valid argument to be made that the trilogy represents the most overt rewriting of continuity across the fourth season, an ironic touch for a season so committed to continuity. The story does excellent work the show’s under-utilised supporting cast. The adventure actually merits three episodes, the story never dragging or wandering off on tangents.

Under a not quite blood red sky...

Under a not quite blood red sky…

However, a large part of why this trilogy of episodes works better than the Borderland trilogy or the United trilogy is a simple piece of structuring. The Kir’Shara trilogy has a very clear and linear three-act structure, with each of the three episodes fitting comfortably together while doing their bit to advance and escalate the plot. There are no strange structural detours like the siege in Cold Station 12 or the visit to Andoria in The Aenar. Each of these three episodes is recognisable part of a singular larger story that builds to a crescendo.

The Forge does an excellent job setting up the arc, Awakening does an excellent job raising the stakes, and Kir’Shara does an excellent job tying it all together. The result is a satisfying two-hour television movie broadcast in three forty-minute chunks.

Mapping out an adventure...

Mapping out an adventure…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Augments (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

The fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise is obsessed with continuity.

More than any other season of Star Trek, the fourth season drips with references and nods towards the franchise’s rich history. Nothing is off limits. The fourth season explains how the Klingons lost their ridges, what happened to the Defiant, how the Federation came to be, the origins of the Earth-Romulan War. It features prominent guest appearances from Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes and Marina Sirtis in roles explicitly tied to their part in the franchise. There are trips to Vulcan and the mirror universe, Romulus and Andoria.

Hitting rewind...

Hitting rewind…

This obsession with continuity is part of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it arguably serves to make the show more insular and introspective at a point when the franchise was on the cusp of collapse. These references could distract from storytelling and feel like indulgence for the sake of indulgence. On the other hand, it is not as if a broader audience was watching Enterprise at this point. Pandering to the fanbase makes sense when the fans are the only ones left. More than that, if the franchise is dying, it makes sense to have its life flash before its eyes.

However, what is most striking about the nostalgia running through the final season of Enterprise is the way that it feels almost ahead of its time. In the way that fourth season looks backwards, it seems to almost be looking forwards.

Obligatory sexy underwear fight, in case you forgot this is till airing on UPN.

Obligatory sexy underwear fight, in case you forgot this is till airing on UPN.

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Star Trek – The Enemy Within (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

One thing that I don’t think the original Star Trek gets nearly enough credit for is the quality of the writers that Gene Roddenberry recruited to contribute scripts. Television obviously operated under a different model at the time, but there’s an impressive selection of science-fiction literary giants who contributed scripts to the show. More than that, it’s impressive how many of those stories became truly iconic Star Trek stories.

The Enemy Within is the work of author Richard Matheson, best known for stories like I Am Legend or What Dreams May Come. It’s very much a high-concept science-fiction story, but it’s also notable because it establishes two of what would become the show’s favourite tropes: transporter accidents and evil duplicates. Indeed, the two devices would be reunited in the following season’s Mirror, Mirror. These narrative elements even featured in the last season of Star Trek: Enterprise to air, in episodes like Daedalus and In a Mirror, Darkly.

Perhaps it’s a demonstration of how important these outside writers were to the development of Star Trek as a franchise that Matheson would effectively codify two stock narrative devices that would still be in use four decades later.

Mirror, mirror...

Mirror, mirror…

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Star Trek – Mudd’s Women (Review)

To celebrate the release of Star Trek: Into Darkness this month, we’ll be running through the first season of the classic Star Trek all this month. Check back daily to get ready to boldly go. It’s only logical.

I think it’s fair to say that Star Trek had some gender issues. I say that as a fan of the show, and as a person with an immense fondness for the ensemble. It’s tempting to write off those sexist moments and decisions as attitudes that were socially acceptable at the time. After all, the sixties are almost half a lifetime away at this point. However, that doesn’t account for the fact that many of the same gender issues plagued Star Trek: The Next Generation in the late eighties, which lost two of its three female leads in its first season, and opened its second year by subjecting the remaining female lead to The Child.

Even disregarding that, though, there comes a point where even the time when a work was produced can’t excuse certain attitudes or approaches. Star Trek doesn’t feature too many strong female characters, relegating recurring female characters like Uhura and Janice Rand to the background. This is dodgy enough, but the show’s problems with gender become a lot more obvious when a show throws sexuality into focus. Mudd’s Women is such a show. It famously introduced one of the few recurring non-crewmember characters, and it plays into the “Star Trek as space western” theme, but it is also very sexist. Very, very sexist.

Mudd-ying the waters...

Mudd-ying the waters…

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Non-Review Review: Men in Black 3

Men in Black 3 is a fine film. Like Men in Black and Men in Black 2, it’s a perfectly entertaining piece of popcorn entertainment if you’re willing to just go along with it. It’s not superb, it’s not exceptional, but it’s not bad either. It’s a decent movie. It manages to probably offer some better moments than the earlier two films, but these are averaged out by some painful deficiencies. You lose Tommy Lee Jones for most of the runtime, but you gain Josh Brolin. That’s a fairly reasonable trade, even if Brolin and Smith don’t share the same chemistry. You get the same wonderful production design, this time heightened by a sixties setting, but a plot that threatens to evaporate if you think about it too hard and any number of developments that are far too easy to predict. Nothing is truly fantastic, but nothing is exceptionally terrible. It just sort of is.

Putting the star in 69…

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