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The X-Files – Zero Sum (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

For all that The X-Files exists in a murky shadow world populated by ambiguous figures and a government conspiracy dating back generations, the show has a pretty straightforward sense of morality. No good can stem from evil, the show seems to suggest; the show’s central mythology repeatedly has Mulder and Scully confront the legacy of sins committed by their forefathers. Even the title of Zero Sum alludes to the hollowness of Walter Skinner’s deal with the devil, his moral compromise that has no demonstrable benefit and severe demonstrable harm.

In Memento Mori, Walter Skinner compromised himself. He made a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in return for Agent Scully’s continued well-being. “What’ll it take?” Skinner asked, desperate for a chance to save Dana Scully. Ever ambiguous, the Cigarette-Smoking Man offered, “Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Unfolding a few months later, Zero Sum is essentially about paying the piper. It is Walter Skinner settling up with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He rolls up his sleeves and jumps into the dirty work.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

Zero Sum is a story that you could not tell with Mulder. Although Mulder never faces the same choice as Skinner, the show has been quite consistent in its portrayal of Mulder’s morality. Mulder does not compromise; Mulder does not subscribe to the theory that a deal with the devil could ever pay dividends. In contrast, Skinner is a more ambiguous and pragmatic figure. Skinner spent significant sections of the second season caught between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show only firmly committed him to Mulder and Scully in Paper Clip.

Zero Sum is a fantastic example of how the world of The X-Files has really grown and expanded around the lead characters. While the show will never quite develop into an ensemble, it is a series with a broad cast. It makes sense that it should begin to use them in a productive manner.

"Walter Skinner, F.B.I."

“Walter Skinner, F.B.I.”

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The X-Files – Ascension (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Ascension is effectively a giant chase sequence and an epilogue to the first six episodes of the second season. While lacking the tight focus of Duane Barry, Ascension moves fast enough and provides enough plot momentum that it feels like a satisfactory conclusion. For an episode that was essentially written to deal with a cast member’s unexpected pregnancy, it’s a pretty fantastic piece of television.

Keep watching the skiis... er, skies!

Keep watching the skiis… er, skies!

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Mark Waid’s Run on Justice League of America – Tower of Babel (Review/Retrospective)

23rd July is Batman Day, celebrating the character’s 75th anniversary. To celebrate, this July we’re taking a look at some new and classic Batman (and Batman related) stories. Check back daily for the latest review.

Although actually published in 2000, Tower of Babel is the third definitive Batman story of the nineties. Running only four issues instead of a massive sprawling crossover across an entire line of comic books, Tower of Babel is certainly more condensed than either Knightfall or No Man’s Land, hitting on many of the same themes and concepts. It is very much constructed as a cautionary tale – a warning about taking a particularly cynical approach to Batman to its logical extreme.

Due to his stand-off-ish nature, the nineties iteration of Batman is sometimes affectionately (or not so affectionately) referred to a “Batjerk.” This version of the character has a wonderful knack of pushing his friends and allies away, making enemies, and escalating problems due to arrogance and ego. In many respects, Tower of Babel is a quintessential “Batjerk” story, where Batman’s anti-social tendencies lead to the humiliation and defeat of the entire Justice League using his own plans.

The last temptation of Batman...

The last temptation of Batman…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Sky’s the Limit: Suicide Note by Geoff Trowbridge (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films.

Suicide Note is another one of those great “expanding from dangling plot threads left at the conclusion of an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation stories that are popular in tie-in media. In this case, writer Geoff Trowbridge is building off the end of The Defector, which saw Captain Picard receiving a suicide note from the eponymous defector Admiral Jarok. Jarok had asked Picard to pass the not on to his family, which was not possible at the time.

Of course, The Next Generation never really dealt with these threads, because – put quite simply – it wasn’t that kind of show. So it’s fun to pick up these threads and to try to recontextualise them in terms of everything that has unfolded since. In this case, Trowbridge is able to explore Jarok’s sacrifice in the context of the Federation and Romulan alliance towards the end of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in the wake of In the Pale Moonlight.

In keeping with Trowbridge’s The Chimes at Midnight, Suicide Note is structured as a critical exploration of American history, through the prism of Star Trek. While The Chimes at Midnight was a brutal deconstruction of the franchise’s roots in the Second World War, Suicide Note is framed in a more modern context.

tng-theskysthelimit

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Something Sinestro This Way Comes…

Note that this article contains spoilers for Green Lantern. So I waited until the movie was released to post it. They aren’t exactly huge spoilers, but consider yourself warned.

It really doesn’t take a rocket scientist to tell that Sinestro is going to end up evil. Created in the sixties, the character was introduced to fans as a rogue Green Lantern, so he wasn’t ever designed to be seen as a good guy in four-colour style. In fact, the guy is red, has an evil moustache and is played by Mark Strong. Although the name Sinestro could arguably refer to the fact he wears his ring on his left hand, it isn’t exactly a name that inspires implicit trust. So his path to the dark side in the intended-franchise-launcher Green Lantern shouldn’t be a surprise.

However, it really demonstrates a lot of the key flaws with the movie.

Not quite mellow yellow...

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