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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Behind the Lines (Review)

Behind the Lines is an exemplary demonstration of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s embrace of serialisation.

More than any other episode in the opening arc of the sixth season, Behind the Lines is an episode that exists in relation to the other episodes around it more than a self-contained unit of narrative. A Time to Stand set the tone for the final two seasons of the show, but its also featured a daring raid on a Dominion facility. Rocks and Shoals was about a ground conflict between Sisko and a Jem’Hadar platoon. Sons and Daughters was about Worf’s long-neglected relationship to Alexander. Favour the Bold and Sacrifice of Angels are an ambitious two-part finale.

Meldmerising...

Meldmerising…

In contrast, Behind the Lines is very much about taking what has already been established and streamlining it in preparation for the bombastic conclusion to this story. Behind the Lines is the episode in which Kira uses her “new resistance” formed in Rocks and Shoals to actually do something, in which Damar finally figures out how to dismantle the minefield that went up in Call to Arms, and in which Odo betrays his friends and colleagues in pursuit of his own gratification. More than any of the episodes around it, Behind the Lines cannot really stand in isolation.

However, it is also a stunningly brilliant piece of storytelling and a reminder of just how skilfully the writing staff on Deep Space Nine had adapted to the demands of serialisation.

Terror cell.

Terror cell.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Twilight (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Twilight is a fascinating piece of Star Trek.

There are some significant flaws with the episode, particularly in how it treats T’Pol as a character and the eagerness with which it grabs at the famed “reset button.” However, despite these problems, Twilight is pretty much perfectly positioned. Eight episodes into the third season, the new status quo has been established. The ground rules have been laid down. Over the past seven episodes, fans have been given a sense of how the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is supposed to work.

Keep your shirt on, Archer...

Keep your shirt on, Archer…

However, there is a palpable sense of unease about the larger arc – a question of how Star Trek can tell a story like the Xindi arc while remaining true to itself. The Shipment was an awkward attempt to impose a traditional Star Trek moral structure upon the season. North Star and Similitude are very much traditional Star Trek morality tales set against the backdrop of the larger arc. Like many of the stronger shows towards the tail end of the second season, these episodes seem to ask how you can apply old Star Trek standards to the twenty-first century.

Twilight is an episode about what happens if the Xindi arc goes wrong. Obviously, this is a story about what happens if Archer cannot save Earth from the Xindi, documenting the slow death of mankind as they are hunted through the cosmos. However, on an external level, Twilight is a story about what happens if Star Trek bungles this big grasp at relevance. It is no coincidence that the debilitating impairment that Archer develops involves his long-term memory. If the franchise forgets itself, all is lost.

Everything dies...

Everything dies…

Twilight is not just the story about the death of Earth or the death of humanity. It is a story about the death of Star Trek. Two years earlier, the franchise had seemed almost invincible; the idea of there not being any Star Trek on the air after the end of Star Trek: Voyager seemed almost absurd. However, by the time that the show had reached the third season, its existence was very much in peril. Twilight is a story about how horrible and apocalyptic the future might be; how Star Trek might find itself hobbled and then destroyed.

As its name implies, Twilight is a lament for the franchise; perhaps a tacit acknowledgement that the show was nothing more than a dead man walking at this point. The result is a surprisingly moving piece of television, a thoughtful and considerate examination of just how much is on the line for the franchise as well as the characters.

Waking dream...

Waking dream…

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Space: Above and Beyond (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

It is very hard to judge a series based on the first season alone. After all, many long-running series evolve quickly and radically from their debut year. In many cases, the first season is about desperately trying to find a footing as everybody gets used to the realities of producing a television show. Assessing a first season is often an exercising in gauging potential, which makes it a risky proposition when trying to evaluate the first and only season of a cancelled television show.

Space: Above and Beyond contains its fair share of clunkers, as does any first season with twenty-odd episodes. There are episodes that seem at odds with the premise and mood of the show, being written by staff writers before the show went to air or simply trying to do something with which the show isn’t comfortable. There are episodes that have interesting ideas, but don’t place emphasis on the show’s strengths.

spaceaboveandbeyond-pilot32

However, this is all but expected for a first season. A first season is a learning experience for all involved. After all, the first season of The X-Files was packed with episodes like Shadows, Fire, Lazarus, Young at Heart and Born Again. It is very rare for the first season of any show – particularly a genre show – to be the strongest. There are rules to be learned, beats to be established, foundations to be laid. If shows are lucky, that work gets to pay off in later seasons, as everybody gets more comfortable.

Space: Above and Beyond never got that chance, which is a shame. Because there is a phenomenal amount of potential on display here.

spaceaboveandbeyond-thefarthestmanfromhome24

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Star Trek – The Alternative Factor (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.

Well, here we are. The Alternative Factor. We’ve had weak episodes before. I’ll concede that shows like Court Martial and The Menagerie, Part II wouldn’t rank among my favourites of the season. However, there was always just enough there to make them interesting, if not compelling. There were good ideas, clumsily executed. There was something value to be found in watching these episodes. The Alternative Factor lacks those sorts of redemptive values, and it’s the first time on this re-watch I have actually wondered where my fifty minutes went, and lamented the fact that watching The Alternative Factor inched me ever-closer to death.

The Alternative Factor is – I’d argue – the weakest episode of a remarkably strong first season of Star Trek. While some would consider it one of the worst episodes the show ever produced, I’m reluctant to commit to that sort of certainty. After all, we still have the third season to come, and I’m hesitant to rank The Alternative Factor as that much worse than The Turnabout Intruder or The Way to Eden or And the Children Shall Lead or Spock’s Brain. Yep, there’s a lot to look forward to if I ever get around to finishing the third season of the show.

Still, the fact that The Alternative Factor might possibly not be the worst thing to happen to Star Trek in its nearly fifty years of existence is damning with faint praise. But I’m sure the episode will take whatever it can get.

It hurts!

It hurts!

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Glass Houses: The Music of Philip Glass

I have the pleasure of checking out Philip Glass at the National Concert Hall tonight. Despite the fact that I know next-to-nothing about music, I’m quite fond of Glass’ rather wonderful compositions – mostly through pop culture osmosis. It seems that Glass is the go-to guy if you need something wonderfully emotional and catchy, yet grandiose and sweeping to accompany a given film. He’s done countless soundtracks, but these are the big “on-screen” moments which I think of when I think of Glass.

First up, Watchmen. There’s a wonderful sequence on Mars scored to Glass’ Prophecies and Pruitt Igoe, which is perhaps the best scene in the entire jumbled up and deeply flawed film, as the past and present collide to the ominous soundtrack and narration. However, I can’t find that, so watch the trailer instead.

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Non-Review Review: Battlestar Galactica – The Plan

It’s a lie. For the first few years, Battlestar Galactica sold itself as a grand mythology. Every episode, in a narration repeated at the start of this film, we were reintroduced to the Cylons and reassured that “They have plan”. Except they didn’t. The show was written year-to-year, with no overarching scheme behind it all. This isn’t a criticism, but an observation. For most of its four year run, the show was the best thing on television. The series finale was a major disappointment but – for the most part – the design worked. So labelling this spin-off as Battlestar Galactica: The Plan is at best a little bit cheeky. At worst it’s a downright lie.

Relax, it's not the end of the world...

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Battlestar Galactica: Season 4

I don’t want to be human! I want to see gamma rays! I want to hear X-rays, and I — I want to — I want to smell dark matter! Do you see the absurdity of what I am? I can’t even express these things properly because I have to — I have to conceptualize complex ideas in this stupid, limiting spoken language! But I know I want to reach out with something other than these prehensile paws, and feel the solar wind of a supernova flowing over me! I’m a machine, and I could know much more, I could experience so much more, but I’m trapped in this absurd body! And why? Because my five creators thought that God wanted it that way!

– John Cavil, No Exit

We could feel a sense of time, as if each moment held its own significance. We began to realise that for our existence to have any value, it must end. To live meaningful lives, we must die and not return. The one human flaw that you spend your life times distressing over – your mortallity – is the one thing which makes you whole.

– Natalie Faust, Guess What’s Coming to Dinner

There’s a moment in the show which perhaps best symbolises the sense of trepidation that I felt in sitting down to watch the final episodes of the show. We had alread witnessed three phenomenal years, so wasn’t it worth getting worried about the endgame? Admiral William Adama sits in a chair beside the dying President Laura Rosalin, his favourite book in hand. He reveals that he’s never finished it. And yet it’s still his favourite book. Because finishing it would be to acknowledge that it was the end – there was nothing afterwards. You had experienced how good it had been, but that was in the past. There is another familiar sense of dread that must be acknowledged: What if the ending doesn’t live up to expectations? What if it disappoints? How can it not?

From the look of it, Giaus was about as confused as I was when he found out how this was going to end...

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