Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives



  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

New Podcast! The Pensky File – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 3, Episode 21 (“The Die is Cast”)

Following on from my look at Improbable Cause with Wes and Clay, I return to The Pensky Podcast to take a look at the unlikely second part of the two-part story.

We talk about “epic” storytelling on Star Trek, and the shifting of focus away from the Federation, as well as the internal politics of the Cardassians and the Romulans. We also talk about the unique strand of liberal humanism that runs through Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and the tragedy of so many of its alien characters who unable to ever go home again.

You can find more from The Pensky Podcast here, and listen to the podcast by clicking the link or just listening below.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Extreme Measures (Review)

Extreme Measures is the closest thing to a standalone story within this epic ten-part conclusion to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

All of the other episodes carry over plot threads and subplots that either develop existing narratives or set-up future twists. This is true even of the more self-contained chapters: When It Rains… and Tacking Into the Wind are something of a two-parter in the middle of the arc, but they pick up in the wake of The Changing Face of Evil; although The Dogs of War has a self-contained subplot focusing on the Ferengi, it deals with baggage from Extreme Measures while setting up What You Leave Behind.

“Well, Miles. If you think it’ll make the episode go easier.”

In contrast, Extreme Measures is practically a bottle show. With the exception of a short one-scene appearance from Garak, Extreme Measures is devoid of the recurring guest stars that populate this final run of episodes. Although Damar and Martok are mentioned, neither Casey Biggs nor J.G. Hertzler appear. Perhaps glad of a week off before his double duty on The Dogs of War, Jeffrey Combs is entirely absent. There is no guest appearance from Louise Fletcher, Marc Alaimo, James Darren, Barry Jenner or Salome Jens.

Indeed, Extreme Measures is very precisely focused on the single story that it wants to tell. Most episodes in this final stretch of the final season have at least two or three plots running through them: Penumbra focuses on the loss of Worf, on Sisko’s retirement plans, on Damar’s growing unease; When It Rains… features the plotting of Dukat and Winn, the development of Damar’s rebellion, and the threat to the Alliance posed by Gowron; The Dogs of War witnesses Ferengi succession, the plan for the invasion of Cardassia, the implosion of Damar’s rebellion.

Journey to the Centre of Sloan’s Mind.

There is so much happening across these ten episodes that it feels strange that Extreme Measures can effectively call a timeout on these recurring plot threads. There are references to the Breen weapon and the Cardassian rebellion, to the ascension of Chancellor Martok and to Bashir’s lingering attraction to Ezri. However, Extreme Measures is an episode without a b-plot or a c-plot. The episode is driven entirely by its primary narrative, the story of how Julian Bashir and Miles O’Brien embark on one last adventure together.

There is something surreal, and almost endearing, about the fact that Deep Space Nine feels comfortable taking time out from its most ambitious experiment with serialisation to make the journey to the centre of Sloan’s mind.

“Julian, are you sure you haven’t been watching too much Star Trek: Voyager?”

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Hope and Fear (Review)

Hope and Fear is a reasonably solid conclusion to the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

To be fair, the episode has a number of very clever ideas. There are a number of creative choices in Hope and Fear that feel entirely appropriate for the final episode of what has been a relatively strong season. Various concepts and ideas are brought back into play, from Janeway’s alliance with the Borg in Scorpion, Part II through to her conversion of Seven of Nine in The Gift and up to the secret coded message from Starfleet suggested in Hunters. It makes sense to bring all of these ideas back into play for the grand finale.

The fourth season comes to a head.

More than that, it makes sense to build the episode around the dynamic between Janeway and Seven. One of the recurring tensions in the fourth season, both behind the scenes and in front of the camera, has been the debate about the prominence of Seven of Nine. In the year since she was introduced, Seven has effectively become one of the three most important members of the cast. There is a credible argument to be made that she is the most important member of the cast, an anxiety played out in One. As such, it is logical to build Hope and Fear around Janeway and Seven.

At the same time, there is a certain clumsiness to the plotting of the episode. There is a very rushed quality to the story, which never really takes the time to develop or explore these big revelations and twists. Hope and Fear races towards its conclusion as if it has been sucked into quantum slipstream, a very disorienting and disjointed effect. Certain character arcs feel under-explored, and certain gaps in the plot logic are brushed aside. Hope and Fear feels like a story that deserved a bigger canvas.

The hard cell.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Investigations (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Investigations is a misfire. It is a spectacular misfire.

Investigations is the episode that pretty much single-handedly killed any chance of Star Trek: Voyager embracing long-form storytelling once and for all. The first season had enthusiastically embraced an episodic structure, but the second season had played with the idea of playing out an arc across the majority of the season. Tying together the Kazon with the idea of a traitor on Voyager and the redemption of Tom Paris, the production team decided to attempt something relatively novel for Star Trek.

Kill me. Kill me now.

Kill me.
Kill me now.

It is worth stressing just how experimental this kind of story was. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had played with the idea of serialisation. Threads like the Romulan and Cardassian invasion of the Gamma Quadrant were carefully seeded through episodes like Defiant and Visionary, but there was not the same tension and momentum afforded to the arcs of Michael Jonas and Tom Paris in the second season. The Romulans and the Cardassians were not discussed in every episode leading up to Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.

At the same time, Deep Space Nine eased into serialisation in a way that allowed for failures and miscalculations that did not publicly humiliate the show. Bajoran politics could be quietly eased into the background when they weren’t quite working, characters like Primmin and T’Rul could be dropped when they weren’t what the show needed. The second season of Voyager was perhaps a bit too bold in its attempts at long-form storytelling, creating a situation where there was no way to pull back from an arc that wasn’t working.

"Well. That escalated quickly."

“Well. That escalated quickly.”

It became quite clear early on that the Paris and Jonas arc was not working. Episodes like Threshold and Dreadnought ground to a halt so that the audience could get yet another scene of Jonas selling out Voyager to the Kazon; treachery that never seemed to actually go anywhere. At the same time, Paris’ rebellious behaviour was tackled in a superficial manner in episodes like Meld and Lifesigns, with no real exploration of the interesting side of such a sting operation.

Investigations serves to bring the arc to a close, but in a manner that feels perfunctory rather than compelling. It is resolved out of a sense of tired desperation rather than any real inspiration. There is a feeling that the production team have determined this to be a failed experiment, of which they will never speak again.

See? I told you EVERYBODY's thought about it.

See? I told you EVERYBODY’s thought about it.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Voyager – Manoeuvres (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

It is weird to think that the much-maligned Kazon provided perhaps the closest thing that Star Trek: Voyager had to a long-form story arc.

That probably says more about Voyager than it does about the Kazon. In storytelling terms, Voyager was firmly episodic. There were some loose threads that would span and connect multiple episodes, but the bulk of the show was comprised of very traditional “done in one” adventures. It seems fair to observe that Voyager represented something of a backslide for the franchise. It was much more episodic than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but also less interested in long-form storytelling than the later years of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!"

“This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!”

One suspects that the Kazon arc running through the second season had something to do with this storytelling choice. Michael Piller pushed really hard to make the Kazon a recurring threat to Voyager and to place them at the centre of the second season. As a result, they become a loose thread that runs through several of the season’s “big” episodes. They place a traitor on board Voyager in Alliances. They provided Tom Paris with a character arc culminating in Investigations. They provided the season-ending cliffhanger in Basics, Part I.

The arc was not well-received, whether by the fans or by the staff. It is not too difficult to understand why. Even before considering the quality of the arc itself – or the storytelling involved – the Kazon are hardly the most compelling Star Trek villains. Allowing for that, it seemed like the writing staff had no real idea how to serialise a story arc across a season, making all manner of clumsy mistakes along the way. The arc never gathered momentum and it never paid off, which are very real problems when trying something that ambitious.

Either you Kazon... or you be gone...

Either you Kazon… or you be gone…

Manoeuvres effectively kicks off the arc. Although the Kazon had appeared in Initiations earlier in the second season, Manoeuvres features the first reappearance of Seska and Cullah since State of Flux midway through the first season. The episode is perhaps the strongest of the “Kazon” shows, with a sense of momentum driving the first half of the script. However, things rather quickly come off the rails in the second half of the story. Already, the production team’s inexperience with serialised storytelling is showing.

Manoeuvres is perhaps as good as the Kazon ever got. It is nowhere near good enough.

So that's why they call them raiders...

So that’s why they call them raiders…

Continue reading

The X-Files – Season 8 (Review)

This October/November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the eighth season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of The Lone Gunmen.

The eighth season of The X-Files would be the perfect last season of the show, and a pretty solid first season of a new show born from the ashes.

In many ways, television is a conservative medium – more in an artistic sense than a political one. Network television is largely built around churn, a conveyor belt model that is designed to generate product according to tight schedules and oppressive deadlines. Routine and familiarity make the production schedule easier to manage, particularly for shows with large season orders. More than that, if a show has figured out an approach that has worked, it makes no sense to deviate from that pattern.

xfiles-deadalive33a

Why risk changing something that has been proven to work and to which the audience has responded? For all the (deserved) praise The X-Files gets for popularising (or repopularising) serialised storytelling in prime-time television, it was just as conservative as any other show. The production team were working under incredible pressure, so it makes sense they would not want to change a formula that made sense. As such, the really big changes to the show were largely driven by external factors.

The mythology largely developed from Scully’s abduction in Duane Barry and Ascension, an attempt by the writers to work around Scully’s abduction. The decision to film The X-Files: Fight the Future between the fourth and fifth seasons was at the behest of Fox rather than the production team. David Duchovny forces the move to Los Angeles in the sixth season. The eighth season represents the most seismic shift in the creative life of The X-Files, and – as with those other big decisions – it was largely driven by choices outside the production team.

xfiles-thisisnothappening13a

In hindsight, it seems obvious that the show could not continue forever. Duchovny and Anderson were headlining a show that filmed twenty-odd episodes a season. The show had begun diffusing its focus in the fourth and fifth seasons by focusing on members of the supporting cast, but it was still effectively a two-lead show. That is a tremendous strain. Something had to give. It turned out that something was Duchovny. At the end of the seventh season, with everything coming down to the wire, Duchovny made it clear he would not appear in a full eighth season.

This forced the show to change, but in a way that afforded some measure of stability. The idea of doing The X-Files without either Mulder or Scully was horrifying to the production team and horrifying to certain sections of fandom, but Duchovny’s willingness to stick around for half of the eighth season afforded some measure of compromise. The change did not need to be jarring. Easing David Duchovny out of the show would allow for a smoother transition. It would allow the show to say a proper (and extended) farewell to Mulder.

xfiles-empedocles23a

This is perhaps the strongest aspect of the eighth season, the sense that it has a certainty and finality that the seventh season lacked. Even during the post-production of Requiem, the production team had no idea whether the seventh season would be the final season of the show. As a result, the seventh season is decidedly non-committal on the issue of closure. The eighth season is a lot more enthusiastic about the prospect of wrapping things up, once and for all. There is a sense that this is the final season of a version of the show, at the very least.

The eighth season finds itself in the impossible position of having to imagine The X-Files without Mulder. The only real issue is that it succeeds all too well. The biggest problem with the eighth season is that it is followed by a ninth season.

xfiles-without2a Continue reading

Jessica Jones – AKA You’re a Winner! (Review)

AKA You’re a Winner! is certainly a much better standalone episode than AKA 99 Friends.

Of course, the episode is tied more tightly into the arc of the season around. Although AKA You’re a Winner! does little to advance Jessica’ on-going pursuit of Kilgrave, it does allow the show to advance many of its individual character plots. In particular, it allows Jessica and Luke a bit of space to advance their own plot while Hope Slottman deals with the consequences of her trauma and while Kilgrave begins to enact his own endgame. There is a sense of pieces moving around a chessboard, but moving with purpose.

jessicajones-youreawinner21a

Despite the fact that AKA You’re a Winner! is less literally tied to the hunt for Kilgrave than AKA Crush Syndrome or AKA It’s Called Whiskey, it feels like it adds substantial more momentum to the on-going plot. The middle stretch of Jessica Jones represents the point at which the show has the clearest sense of drive and identity, the point at which the show is most comfortable in its own skin. AKA You’re a Winner! is a relatively light character-driven piece than the episodes around it, but it retains a firm grasp of the characters involved.

AKA You’re a Winner! feels like the kind of episode that Jessica Jones should have employed earlier in the season.

jessicajones-youreawinner38a

Continue reading