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Space: Above and Beyond – And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… (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.

The last stretch of episodes of Space: Above and Beyond are quite mournful and introspective.

It is very difficult to tell a war story. There are a host of tightropes that any writer has to navigate. After all, it is very easy for a story about the bonds of warfare and humanity in wartime to be interpreted as militaristic or fascistic. At the same time, it is very easy for an anti-war parable to seem critical of the soldiers fighting the war, to dismiss the bravery and courage on display in that most horrific of environments.

Seeing eye-to-eye...

Seeing eye-to-eye…

With its futuristic tech and gigantic guns, as well as its fascination with the military apparatus, it is easy to read Space: Above and Beyond as a pro-military piece. Given how much pride it takes in the way that it presents military life, or how much it wallows in the military setting, a casual viewer might be forgiven for assuming the it glorifies warfare. However, this is the most superficial of readings. It ignores a lot of what the show actually has to say about combat and warfare.

Space: Above and Beyond is by turns cynical and romantic in its portrayal of this futuristic conflict – it clearly respects and appreciates the sacrifices made by those in service of mankind, but is also wary about the motivations of those ordering the sacrifices. It is a very delicate balance to maintain. However, And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… and … Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best seem to lay the cards out on the table, once and for all. This is as anti-war as the show ever gets.

Face of the enemy...

Face of the enemy…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Sugar Dirt (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.

The end is nigh.

There is a generally funereal atmosphere to the last few episodes of Space: Above and Beyond, creating the sense that the show was well aware of – and had perhaps come to terms with – its own inevitable cancellation. Stardust had assured viewers (and the show itself) that the dead can be heroes too. Sugar Dirt seems a lot angrier about the series’ situation. It is the story of our heroes surrounded and outgunned on all sides; abandoned to their fate by those in authority.

Sadly, McQueen couldn't quite save the show...

Sadly, McQueen couldn’t quite save the show…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Choice or Chance (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.

Hostile Visit and Choice or Chance follow the two-part template established by The X-Files, keeping things fresh by offering a pretty dramatic shift between the two episodes in question.

Hostile Visit featured a covert trojan house mission to infiltrate enemy space and stage a devastating attack behind enemy lines. The episode ended with the mission a failure and our heroes drifting through space. Choice or Chance features our heroes landing on a prison planet maintained by the Silicates, the evil artificial organisms that have skirted around the edge of the show’s mythology to this point.

Here's Douggie!

Here’s Douggie!

Choice or Chance comes very close to working. It is a lot more dynamic than Hostile Visit was, which is a good thing for the second half of a two-parter airing during November Sweeps. However, while Hostile Visit felt a little padded and extended, never quite building the momentum necessary for the story to work, Choice or Chance feels a little over-stuffed. There’s a lot of nice stuff here, but no room to properly digest it. It’s an episode that comes up with something for every member of the cast to do, but this inevitably means that the character arcs feel abbreviated and shortened.

There is a  pretty solid two-part episode to be constructed out of the ingredients of Hostile Visit and Choice or Chance. Sadly, the resulting two-parter is not it.

Crash and burn...

Crash and burn…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Hostile Visit (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.

At this point, Space: Above and Beyond could do a lot worse than learn from The X-Files.

There are quite a few echoes of The X-Files in Space: Above and Beyond, becoming more pronounced as the show approaches the middle of the season. Eyes built on the suggestion of conspiracy and cover-up to assure viewers that Space: Above and Beyond was just as cynical about authority as The X-Files ever was. The Enemy felt like an attempt to copy the formula that Morgan and Wong had worked so well back in Ice.

Picture imperfect...

Picture imperfect…

Hostile Visit and Choice or Chance feels like an attempt to do a big sweeps two-parter in the style of The X-Files. This was a crucial moment for Space: Above and Beyond. The series had been scheduled outside of its comfort zone, had not been drawing huge ratings, had found itself preempted and bounced around the schedule as a result of factors outside its control. It needed a strong performance for the November sweeps, which were a matter of pride (and money) for the networks and a matter of interest for the advertisers.

So structuring a two-parter around that period makes a great deal of sense. Unfortunately, Hostile Visit does not make for the most compelling first half.

"I want a good clean sweep."

“I want a good clean sweep.”

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Space: Above and Beyond – The Enemy (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.

On paper, The Enemy seems like a good idea.

Space: Above and Beyond has a reasonably large cast. It has devoted character-centric episodes to the three leads, and done a nice bit of world-building around that. To this point, the shows have typically split the characters up, pushed some to the fore and others to the background.  The show is now about a third of the way through the first season, so it makes a great deal of sense to do a show that actually stresses the ensemble dynamic.

Nothing to fear, but fear itself...

Nothing to fear, but fear itself…

A story like The Enemy makes a great deal of sense. When you have an ensemble, you can generate drama from next to nothing. Lock five people in a room together, you’re sure to generate some friction. Character practically defines itself as they play off one another. If you can crank up the tension, it will all come together. So a war story where our heroes find themselves trapped together and cracking under the pressure seems like a solid basis for a good story.

The problem is that The Enemy is just a clumsy mess of a script, and one that stumbles over what should be a fairly robust set-up.

"I'm still not sure that producing the episode could be considered a war crime..."

“I appreciate that it was traumatic, but I’m still not sure that producing the episode could be considered a war crime…”

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