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Trump Trek: How Star Trek: Voyager is Perfectly Trumpian Star Trek…

Star Trek has built up a fascinating pop culture mythology around itself. There is an interesting dissonance between that memory and the reality.

The fond memory of a thing is not the thing itself. It is a cliché to observe that the line “beam me up, Scotty” was never actually said on the original show, but many casual fans associate the phrase with the franchise. Even hardcore Star Trek fans tend to gloss over the historical record in favour of affectionate memory. Many fans remember the pointed anti-Vietnam rhetoric of A Taste of Armageddon, Errand of Mercy or The Trouble with Tribbles. Few remember the pro-Vietnam tone of Friday’s Child, The Apple or The Omega Glory.

There is a tendency to believe that Star Trek has always been progressive, that the franchise has always embraced tolerance and actively pursued diversity. However, the reality is often more complicated than that. This why certain sections of the fanbase seem to react in abject terror to concepts like “Trek Against Trump”, a campaign organised by Armin Shimerman to protest the racism and xenophobia espoused by the (then-) candidate Donald Trump. One would imagine that rejecting sexism, racism, white nationalism would be a no-brainer for fandom, but it was not.

Indeed, this reactionary strain of fandom has come up time and again in the context of Star Trek: Discovery. Certain vocal sections of the fan base have objected to the diversity of the primary cast, despite the fact that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine arguably had a much more diverse ensemble. The backlash has reached the point that the cast have had to actually give interviews that racism is a very bad thing and that the franchise is very much about tolerance and understanding. Similarly, the news that the series would be overtly political has rattled some cages in fandom.

In theory, these reactions should be shocking. The Star Trek franchise has carefully cultivated a reputation for liberalism and idealism. Indeed, the Federation is quite explicitly socialist, something hinted at in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and explicitly confirmed in Star Trek: First Contact. On a more fundamental level, the franchise is about people from different cultures and with different values coming together to work in common purpose. It seems reasonably fair to argue the franchise would disagree with concepts like “the Muslim Ban” or “the Transgender Service Ban.”

However, the truth is that there has always been a reactionary streak lurking within the franchise. And nowhere has that reactionary streak been stronger than in Star Trek: Voyager, bleeding over into the creation and first two seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Chute (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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.

Season three begins. Kind of.

The Chute was the first episode produced for the third season. Basics, Part II and Flashback aired as the first two episodes of the season, but they had been produced towards the tail end of the second season and held back so that Star Trek: Voyager could launch its third season in early September. It was a smart strategy for the production team and UPN, but it did mean that there was a lot of holdover from the second season. Although the production team had wanted Basics, Part II to be the end of the Piller era, his ghost lingered on.

A breakout hit.

A breakout hit.

In some ways, the ghost of Michael Piller still haunts The Chute. The episode was produced after Piller’s departure, but writer Kenneth Biller credits the idea to the former executive producer and it feels very much in keeping with some of Piller’s pet fascinations and ideas. At the same time, The Chute does signal the beginning of the third season. It marks a point at which Voyager feels a lot more comfortable in its own skin, and where it feels like the writers have a clear grasp of what they want the show to be.

If the second season was a collection of misfiring experimental concepts and bold new directions, the third is markedly more conservative in its style and tone. The Chute is an episode of Voyager that is aiming squarely for an archetypal science-fiction allegory, and which manages to deliver on those terms. It is not necessarily ambitious or exceptional, but it manages to accomplish what it wants to do. What it wants to do is to be a very broadly-drawn (but recognisable) piece of Star Trek.

Dagger of the not-quite mind...

Dagger of the not-quite mind…

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The X-Files – Drive (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 many ways, Drive feels like an episode that tackles the move to California head-on.

After all, the plot of Drive essentially finds Mulder trapped in a car heading westwards through Nevada and into California. The episode even lingers on a “welcome to California” sign, tacitly acknowledging the massive change that had taken place behind the scenes between the fifth and sixth seasons of The X-Files. It is a very clever way of addressing a major change to the production of the show, one that is candid and open about the fact that things are inherently different now.

"Running out of west..."

“Running out of west…”

More than that, Drive figures out how to build an episode of The X-Files around the change in production location. The sixth season often finds the production team struggling to find the right tone and mood to match the new location; after all, the show cannot simply pretend that it is still filming in Vancouver. California is sunnier, hotter and drier than Vancouver ever was – the sixth season of The X-Files spends a little time trying to adapt to those new filming conditions.

This challenge is arguably most obvious in the string of (literally and metaphorically) lighter episodes in the first stretch of the season. The sixth season is quite controversial among fans of the show because there is a period of time where it seems like The X-Files might transform itself into a quirky romantic sit-com. Episodes like Triangle, Dreamland I, Dreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and The Rain King would be the lighter episodes of any previous season; they seem to pile in on top of one another at the start of the sixth season.

Feels like going home...

Feels like going home…

In contrast, Drive is very much a quintessential episode of The X-Files. It is a classic episode of the show. It is scary, it is tense, it is meticulously constructed. There is humour to be found, but the stakes feel real and personal. Writer Vince Gilligan very shrewdly plays into the constraints of the new Los Angeles production realities. A lot of Drive takes place during the day on long desert roads. It takes advantage of California’s impressive interstate system, with twenty-five highways covering almost two-and-half thousand miles.

However, Drive is more than simply a demonstration that The X-Files can still work in its new home. Drive is a superb piece of television in its own right. It is highly regarded as one of the finest episodes of The X-Files from the second half of the run. It is notable for a wonderful premise, a great script, and a mesmerising guest performance from Bryan Cranston. Drive would be the first collaboration between writer Vince Gilligan and actor Bryan Cranston, but not the last.

Drive of your life...

Drive of your life…

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The X-Files – The End (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The End is a watershed moment for the show.

There is a reasonable argument to be made that The End accomplishes very little in terms of narrative. It doesn’t really do a great job bridging to The X-Files: Fight the Future. It certainly doesn’t do a great job wrapping up any of the show’s long-running concerns. Indeed, it adds two characters who will go on to become major (if controversial) players in the show’s overarching mythology. Even the big dramatic twist at the end of the episode feels familiar, with The End closing on a more memorable visualisation of the cliffhanger to The Erlenmeyer Flask.

Burn, baby, burn...

Burn, baby, burn…

Nevertheless, The End does feel like an end of sorts. It closes out five seasons of The X-Files. Carter had suggested in interviews that he only wanted to do five seasons of the show before transitioning into feature films, and so The End marks the conclusion of the run that Carter had originally planned for the show. After all, The X-Files had crossed the hundred episode mark earlier in the year. It was ripe for syndication. It was at the stage where Fox and Ten Thirteen did not need to keep the show on the air to keep printing money.

At the same time, The End marks another more definitive sort of end. It would be the last piece of The X-Files to be filmed in Vancouver until The X-Files: I Want to Believe a decade later. Vancouver was a part of the show’s DNA. It had been the show’s production hub since The Pilot. More than two decades later, The X-Files would return to Vancouver for its six-episode wrap-up miniseries. Discussing the revival, Carter argued that Vancouver was “a natural place to make a show like The X-Files.” Certainly, the mood and atmosphere lent itself to the series.

"My video collection!"

“My video collection!”

So The End marks a fond farewell from the production team to a city and region that had served them well.  In that respect, it feels like a more definitive sort of ending. The End opens with a scene that is confident enough to let Canada be Canada. As with the opening scene of Herrenvolk, it is almost comical how hard The End flags its “and starring Canada as Canada” cred, to the point where a mountie rushes to the aid of an assassination victim. The closing scene of The End burns down the show’s most iconic and memorable sets.

While The End is not necessarily a satisfying mythology episode or season finalé in its own right, it does feel like a suitably big moment in the evolution of the show.

Smoking gun...

Smoking gun…

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Kieron Gillen’s Run on Uncanny X-Men – Fear Itself (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Kieron Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run stands as one of the most underrated gems at Marvel over the past decade or so. As with his work on Thor, Gillen’s work on the title is sandwiched between two more high-profile writers. On Thor, Gillen took over from J. Michael Straczynski and handed over to Matt Fraction, while he worked on Uncanny X-Men between the runs of Matt Fraction and Brian Michael Bendis. It’s easy to see how his work on the book might slip under the radar.

Even the run itself feels somewhat disjointed. It isn’t as simple as tracing the first issue he wrote to the last issue he wrote. Gillen was the last writer to work on the first volume of Uncanny X-Men, and the launch of the comic’s second volume bisected his run. He finished up on the second volume of Uncanny X-Men in the midst of the gigantic Avengers vs. X-Men crossover, with Avengers vs. X-Men: Consequences serving as something of a coda to his work on the merry mutants.

All fired up...

All fired up…

Looking at Gillen’s Uncanny X-Men run from outside, it looks like a line trying to connect various events and moments. It almost reads like a checklist of problems that a writer working on a mainstream superhero comic could face from the publisher. However, one of Gillen’s main strengths is his adaptability. Gillen has a unique ability to bend his story to fit whatever is required from the book in question.

He is a flexible writer, more than able to respond to the demands of the publisher – and even incorporate them into his stories. As a case in point, the Uncanny X-Men tie-in to Fear Itself really should be a disjointed mess. Fear Itself was a sprawling event that featured all sorts of tie-ins and spin-offs and crossovers, intersecting with various other stories in all sorts of strange ways. It’s to the credit of Gillen that the whole four-issue tie-in fits perfectly with his work on Uncanny X-Men.

Punching above his weight...

Punching above his weight…

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Subtitle European Film Festival, Kilkenny, 25th November – 1st December 2013

I just got this press release about the upcoming SUBTITLE European film festival being held in Kilkenny towards the end of November. I’m always a fan of European cinema, and nothing beats the ethereal atmosphere of a film festival, so I thought I’d pass it on. You can find more details about the festival and their line-up on their website here. I particularly recommend Headhunters and A Hijacking if you can get to see them.

The press release is below.

headhunters

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Non-Review Review: The Summit

This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013.

The Summit is a powerful exploration of the infamous loss of eleven lives within 24 hours on K2. This is the largest disaster in the history of K2 mountaineering, and – as The Summit concedes – that we won’t necessarily ever know the full details behind this tragic loss of life. However, while the incident serves as a bit of a flashpoint, one big event that it is impossible to overlook, The Summit drops an absolutely fascinating piece of information early one, and one which contextualises that horrible accident.

Apparently one in every four people to make it to the summit of K2 doesn’t make it back down.

thesummit4

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