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196. The Terminator (#245)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this week with special guests Joe Griffin and Emmet Kirwan, The 250 is a (mostly) weekly trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, James Cameron’s The Terminator.

In 2029, Los Angeles is a burning hellhole. In 1984, it is not much better. In the dead of night, two soldiers from an apocalyptic future escape into the urban landscape. These mysterious veterans of a coming war make their way across the City of Angels, with only one name on their minds: Sarah Connor.

At time of recording, it was ranked 245th on the list of the best movies of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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New Escapist Column! On the Perpetual Apocalypse of “Atomic Blonde”…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine this evening. Since it’s three years old, and there are rumours of a sequel coming, I thought it was worth taking a look at Atomic Blonde.

Released in July 2017 and set in November 1989, there’s a pervasive sense of apocalypse to Atomic Blonde. Set against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall and released in the early months of the Trump Presidency, Atomic Blonde captures the sense of a world collapsing into madness. The deliberately jumbled spy thriller unfolds as the ordering principles of the Cold War collapse around it. There’s a grim, suffocating, brutal nihilism to Atomic Blonde, one underscored in the film’s central fear: what if the apocalypse itself never actually ends? what if it’s eternal?

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

 

New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 2, Episode 23 (“The Time is Now”)

And with that, The Time is Now finishes its coverage of the second season of Millennium, and I was flattered to be invited to discuss the second part of the two-part season finale The Time is Now with the fantastic Kurt North.

I’ve talked a great deal before about how the second season of Millennium is one of my favourite seasons of television ever made. And it has been an absolute joy revisiting it for these podcast discussions. It’s been amazing to see that the show still holds up more than twenty years after it was originally produced, and to see how it resonates in entirely new and surprising ways with the world as it exists today. Twenty years later, the second season is still a monumental and underrated piece of television.

It has been a huge honour to talk so much about the season. I think, outside of Kurt, I’ve been the contributor who has appeared most frequently on these episodes. I hope I’ve been able to make a coherent and convincing case for why I think so many of the individual episodes – and indeed the larger season as a whole – are masterpieces of storytelling and among the very best material that Ten Thirteen ever produced. Thanks to Kurt and Tony for having me, and thanks to the listeners for putting up with me.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 2, Episode 15 (“Roosters”)

I have had the immense good fortune to appear on The Time is Now quite a lot lately, but was particularly flattered to be invited on to talk about Owls and Roosters, the big “mythology” two-parter in the late second season of Millennium. It’s an honour to join Kurt North for the second part of this conversation.

Owls and Roosters are two of my favourite episodes of television, because they demonstrate everything that Millennium did so well. They’re incredibly densely packed with information, in a way that really captures the sense of modern living – a constant influx of often contradictory stimulae that the individual often struggles to parse or process. In many ways, the second season of Millennium has aged remarkably well, capturing a sense of information overload in a manner that resonates even more strongly today than it did on broadcast.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Podcast! The Time is Now – Season 2, Episode 15 (“Owls”)

I have had the immense good fortune to appear on The Time is Now quite a lot lately, but was particularly flattered to be invited on to talk about Owls and Roosters, the big “mythology” two-parter in the late second season of Millennium. It’s an honour to join Kurt North for the conversation.

Owls and Roosters rank among my favourite mythology episodes in the Ten Thirteen canon, largely because they serve as a conscious unravelling of conspiracy theory. It is very common to compare Millennium to The X-Files, and with good reason. There’s considerable thematic overlap between the two shows; in fact, Patient X and The Red and the Black work as interesting companion pieces to Owls and Roosters. Both are stories about the limits of conspiracy, and the idea that entropy must eventually kick in and erode these empires of sand.

However, while The X-Files maintained a consistent belief in a singular unifying mythology, a belief in a single account of history, however convoluted that arc might be, Millennium opted for a more adventurous and postmodern approach. Millennium suggested a world in which all conspiracies were true, in which there were multiple competing narratives of history struggling against one another, with no clear or correct answer. Owls and Roosters offer the culmination of this approach, a car crash of competing narratives trying to account for a period of great instability.

As ever, you can listen directly to the episode here, subscribe to the podcast here, or click the link below.

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New Escapist Column! On “Mad Max: Fury Road” and Finding Hope Amid the Apocalypse…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine last week. There’s understandably been a lot of talk about the end of the world lately, understandably, but I thought it was worth unpacking Mad Max: Fury Road.

Fury Road is one of the best blockbusters of the past decade, appearing on countless lists of the best films of the 2010s. However, what distinguishes it from a lot of apocalyptic cinema is that it embraces hope in a very meaningful and practical way. Fury Road is largely about the impulse to retreat from horror and from untenable situations, to abandon a world that appears to be fallen. However, the film argues that such an impulse is ultimately self-destructive, as eventually such a retreat runs out of road. Instead, Fury Road contends that the proper response to a broken world is to turn around and face it head on, to fix it from the inside. It’s a brave and empowering message, and a large part of the film’s appeal.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Reckoning (Review)

The end is nigh.

As the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine draws to a close, the production team are increasingly aware that things will be wrapping up shortly. Star Trek: The Next Generation ran for seven seasons, setting a nice target for the spin-offs. Indeed, most of the sixth season had been spent discussing contract extensions with the cast for a final season. The writers (and the cast) knew that the seventh season would be the last. As the sixth season wound down, that massive deadline loomed large.

That’s gonna leave a stain.

The long-term storytelling on Deep Space Nine was largely improvised on the fly, with the writers adding new and interesting twists to the mythology as they went; this led to strange-in-hindsight tangents like Dukat’s time as a space pirate between Return to Grace and By Inferno’s Light. There had never really been a long-term plan, explaining why seemingly important plot points like Bajor’s admittance to the Federation seemed to just drop off the table after Rapture.

At best, the writers on Deep Space Nine knew the direction in which they were moving, but had not charted the course that they would follow. Still, a looming deadline tends to focus the mind. In the final third of the sixth season, the production team begin aligning plot points and character arcs towards the end of the story. Ira Steven Behr wrote His Way in large part because he wanted to introduce Vic Fontaine and pair off Kira and Odo, realising that time was working against him.

Who Prophets?

The Reckoning is a story about the end of days, in more ways than one. Broadcast in April 1998, it perfectly taps into the millennial eschatology that had taken root in the popular consciousness in the lead up to the twenty-first century. The Reckoning posits an epic battle between good and evil that will mark the end of an epoch, tapping into an anxiety simmering through popular culture in television shows like Millennium and films like End of Days. As the nineties came to a close, there was a clear anxiety about what the future might hold, if it existed at all.

However, The Reckoning also feels like a conscious effort to align various characters and plot beats in service of the final season ahead. The Reckoning properly seeds an entire subplot that will play through the remainder for the show, from Tears of the Prophets through to What You Leave Behind. Character motivations are made clear, stakes are heightened, mythology is explained. All of this is very much in service of where the writers plan for Deep Space Nine to go.

The wormhole in things…

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Harsh Realm – Cincinnati (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Cincinnati finally gives Terry O’Quinn something to do.

Despite the fact that O’Quinn is credited as a series regular on Harsh Realm, he has appeared about as frequently in the first nine episodes as he did during the equivalent episodes of Millennium. With his “and…” credit at the end of the opening title sequence, it felt like O’Quinn might be forgotten by the show. His face might appear on posters and propaganda, but he was not going to play a particularly dynamic role in the events of the first season. After all, Hobbes is trying to assassinate Santiago; there are reasons why the writers would want to keep them separate.

Walk softly, but carry a big stick...

Walk softly, but carry a big stick…

Nevertheless, Cincinnati is a story that unfolds from Santiago’s perspective. Hobbes and Pinochio play a major part in unfolding events, but they largely reacting. The bulk of Cincinnati concerns a conflict between Santiago’s forces and the Native American population of Ohio. When a military strike goes horribly wrong, Santiago is forced to survive on his own terms. He infiltrates the eponymous city and sets about furthering his own agenda with ruthless efficiency.

A lot of Cincinnati is pure nonsense; the plot is barely held together by contrivance and coincidence, hinging on a final twist that manages to be both obvious and completely unearned. At the same time, it is hard to hate an episode that is carried by Terry O’Quinn and offers the actor a chance to sink his teeth into a juicy part.

It's all in ruins...

It’s all in ruins…

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Millennium – Forcing the End (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

In its own odd way, Forcing the End is reassuring.

Not in any way that makes Forcing the End a good piece of television. In fact, Forcing the End is a terrible piece of television. It is poorly written, awkwardly staged, horribly muddled and needlessly convoluted. It wastes two potentially interesting guest stars in Julie Landau and Andreas Katsulas, and doesn’t give our characters anything interesting to do. The best that can be said bout Forcing the End is that it has some interesting ideas and striking imagery, but never seems to be able to fashion them into a functioning story.

"Wait. What."

“Wait. What.”

However, Forcing the End is reassuring because it stands as a monument to the second season of Millennium. The second season of Millennium was a gloriously odd and ambitious piece of television, one that floated ideas and concepts that often seemed insane or ridiculous. It was unlike anything else on television, and holds up rather well. However, the second season of Millennium is interesting because it invites the viewer to wonder whether to is fueled and sustained by its high concepts and big ideas, rather than its scripting and plotting.

Forcing the End answers that question rather clearly. It confirms that the second season works as well as it did because it was well written and beautifully constructed; carefully put together and meticulously crafted. It is not enough to just throw crazy apocalyptic concepts and imagery at the screen and see what sticks. The fact that Forcing the End is so packed with weird eschatological imagery and themes, and yet so stubbornly refuses to work, demonstrates that it is not enough for television to be odd. It has to be good.

Veiled threats...

Veiled threats…

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Millennium – Matryoshka (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

It seems like every time that the third season of Millennium takes a step forward, it is simply preparing to take a tumble backwards.

After spending over a third of the season trying to rewrite the events of the second season, it seemed like the show was finally accepting the changes that had been made by Glen Morgan and James Wong over the course of the sophomore year. Omertà, Borrowed Time, Collateral Damage and The Sound of Snow had all seen the show trying to make its peace with the loss of Catherine Black and the changes to the Millennium Group stemming from the second season finalé. It looked like the show was working through its conflicted feelings, and was ready to move on.

Perhaps it must...

Perhaps it must…

However, both Antipas and Matryoshka represent a very clear step backwards. Antipas feels like an attempt to return to the mood and aesthetic of the late first season (and first season characterisation of Lucy Butler) with no regard for what came afterwards. Matryoshka attempts to reintroduce the sort of clumsy revisionist rewriting of Millennium‘s internal continuity in a manner that evokes The Innocents or Exegesis or Skull and Bones. It presents a secret history of the Millennium Group that heavily contradicts The Hand of St. Sebastian.

There is a host of potentially interesting stuff buried under all of this, but – as with a lot of the third season – it is very hard to care about a show more invested in playing ping-pong with its own history than in trying to tell a new and compelling story. It seems like the most striking thing about most third season episodes is how they engage with what came before, more than what they are actually trying to do. Watching the third season, it seems like the Millennium writing staff is just as divided as the Millennium Group was in Owls and Roosters.

Nesting dolls...

Nesting dolls…

This approach is self-defeating on a number of levels. The second season was admittedly divisive among fans, but it seems like the third season simply cannot get past The Fourth Horseman and The Time is Now in any meaningful fashion. Fans who enjoyed the second season will inevitably feel frustrated by the repeated efforts to minimise or over-write it. Fans who disliked the second season will grow increasingly annoyed that the show is still fixated upon it. Any viewers without a working knowledge of the history of the show are likely to just be confused and befuddled.

Matryoshka is not the worst offender for this sort of confused self-contradiction and self-fixation, but there is a sense that Millennium‘s fascination with the continuity (or lack thereof) of the second season has already passed to point of diminishing returns. Much like the script for Matryoshka, it seems like the third season of Millennium is trapped in the past.

Eating its own tale...

Eating its own tale…

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