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Star Trek: Voyager – Bliss (Review)

Bliss is a textbook example of Star Trek: Voyager doing textbook Star Trek.

The episode feels like a stew composed primarily of leftovers, the residue of past meals thrown together to serve up something lukewarm and familiar. Bliss is not necessarily a bad episode of television, per se. It is rather lifeless and generic, but it is hardly the weakest episode of the season or the series. Instead, Bliss is the kind of episode that fades gently from memory, a hollow confection that doesn’t taste particularly nice, but which at least offers something to chew over.

Good Sheppard.

Bliss is a cocktail of familiar Star Trek plot elements. At the centre of the story is the sort of gigantic monstrous space entity that haunted earlier tales like The Immunity Syndrome or Datalore, a reminder of how weird and dangerous space can be. The “pitcher plant” in Bliss recalls the parasites from Operation — Annihilate! or the space vampire from The Man Trap. It feels like something almost Lovecraftian, a “beast” with tendrils that reach into the minds anybody near enough so that it might lure them to their doom. It is unfathomable to those caught within its grasp.

Qatai exists in opposition to this malign entity, caught in an immortal struggle with a force more vicious and more powerful than he could ever be. The EMH compares Qatai to Ahab, acknowledging the debt that Bliss owes to Moby Dick. Of course, the Star Trek franchise is populated with stories built upon that classic template; Obsession, The Doomsday Machine, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek: First Contact, Star Trek: Nemesis, Star Trek. It is hard to think of a more generic source of inspiration for an episode of Star Trek.

The show could use a shot in the arm.

Even beyond that, Bliss touches on plot ideas and elements that will be familiar to most Voyager viewers. As with episodes like Eye of the Needle or False Profits, the crew are tempted by a phenomenon that seems to promise the possibility of getting the crew home quickly. As in Hope and Fear and The Voyager Conspiracy, Seven of Nine becomes preoccupied with the notion that she is the only member of the crew with an objective perspective that allows her to see the truth. As with The Cloud or One, this might be deemed an “anomaly of the week” episode.

The result is something the feels very much like a representative distillation of Voyager, the statistical mean of the series derived to a decimal point. Bliss is perhaps the perfect encapsulation of Voyager as a television show. It is neither truly great or truly awful, it is merely there.

Coming down to Earth.

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Iron Fist – Black Tiger Steals Heart (Review)

And so it becomes a little clearer what exactly Iron Fist is trying to do with the Hand.

Black Tiger Steals Heart reveals that Madame Gao is not the leader of the Hand, but instead one faction of the Hand. Presumably, Nobu was the leader of another faction of the Hand on Daredevil, although his interactions with Gao never seemed anywhere near as charged as they might otherwise be. Black Tiger Steals Heart properly introduces the character of Bakuto, a mysterious figure who has been lurking at the edge of the narrative since he was introduced as a friend of Colleen Wing in Felling Tree With Roots.

“Ay, Macarena!”

Bakuto is ultimately revealed to be a major player in the Hand, a character with ambiguous motivations and impressive influence. Black Tiger Steals Heart immediately sets Bakuto up as a cool idealist with progressive values and socialist leanings. He attracts young followers who seem genuinely devoted to them, arguing against capitalism as a philosophy and suggesting that the power of disaffected youth can be channeled in a more constructive manner. Contrasted with Gao’s capitalism or Rand Industries’ exploitation, Bakuto makes a lot of sense.

Bakuto is ultimately revealed as a sinister cult leader looking to exploit the young people placed in his care, turning them into weapons through which he might wage war upon the establishment. Bakuto’s reinvention of the Hand away from Nobu’s Asian mysticism or Gao’s magical capitalism continues the theme of the Hand as a stand-in for American anxieties about foreign belief systems. In this case, Iron Fist treats the Hand as a reactionary critique of left-leaning social movements like Black Lives Matter or Bernie Sanders supporters.

Enjoy this, because this is the only Asian Iron Fist that you’re going to get.

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The X-Files – Nothing Important Happened Today II (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Of course, the ninth season was broadcast in a radically different world than the eighth season.

Nothing Important Happened Today I was broadcast early in November 2001, less than two months after hijackers commandeered control of several airline jets and sent them crashing into various American landmarks. The attacks upon the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon changed the world in a way that very few events can claim. History can be comfortably divided into “before 9/11” and “after 9/11”, a rare marker of cultural significance generally reserved for events like World Wars.

World on fire...

World on fire…

Tom Brokow has argued that 9/11 was “when the twenty-first century truly began.” Anne-Marie Slaughter argued that 9/11 was “the defining event of the new millennium.” Phillip E. Wegner suggested that 9/11 represented the end of “the long nineties” that had begun with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that 9/11 changed absolutely everything. It defined American foreign policy for over a decade after the fact, cemented a culture of anxiety and surveillance, cast an incredibly long shadow over world culture and politics.

Over two-and-a-half thousand people were killed on 9/11. Estimates suggest that up to twenty-one thousand civilians and more than two thousand American troops died during the War in Afghanistan. Studies suggest that up to half a million Iraqis have died of war-related causes and nearly four-and-a-half thousand American troops have died during the Iraq War. These are just the losses that can be tangibly measured; it is to say nothing of the lives caught in ripple effects and unforeseen (or foreseeable) consequences.

Shining a light on what happened...

Shining a light on what happened…

It is very cavalier and insensitive to suggest that The X-Files was a victim of 9/11 in any real sense. With everything else going on in the wake of 9/11, the cancellation of a television show means nothing. The cancellation of a show (even a popular show) is not even a footnote in any account of how the world changed. It is entirely reasonable to argue that The X-Files might have been cancelled even if 9/11 never happened. The show was nine years old, and had just lost one of its two leads. It was entirely possible that the show could never have recovered from that anyway.

Still, The X-Files was a show indelibly and undeniably anchored in the context of the nineties. It was a show that tapped into the zeitgeist in that historical lacuna following the end of the Cold War, when there were no more enemies to fight and where there was room for introspection and reflection about government authority. By the start of the ninth season, the show’s cultural moment had passed.

A Doggett lead...

A Doggett lead…

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The Lone Gunmen – Three Men and a Smoking Diaper (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.

Three Men and a Smoking Diaper might just be the worst episode of The Lone Gunmen.

It is also the only episode to be written solely by Chris Carter, who had also contributed to The Pilot.

Good advice...

Good advice…

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Millennium – Collateral Damage (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.

Collateral Damage continues the weird healing process at work in the third season.

After spending so much time pretending that the second season never actually happened, the third season has finally accepted that there were story developments flowing from that season that the show needs to deal with. In some respects, Collateral Damage can be seen as a process of healing and integration for the third season of Millennium, constructing a story that manages to tie together all three seasons of Millennium together into something resembling a cohesive whole.

"A bloody fine mess you've gotten me into!"

“A bloody fine mess you’ve gotten me into!”

From the first season, Collateral Damage takes its introduction and basic premise. Collateral Damage begins in a manner similar to many early Millennium episodes. A sinister attacker stalks their victim and brutally strikes. We are then treated to a few extended suspense-filled sequences as the attacker’s designs become increasingly uncomfortable and nefarious. It is not too hard to imagine Collateral Damage as the kind of “serial killer of the week” episode that populated the early first season.

For the second season, Collateral Damage inherits its fascination with the Millennium Group and its depiction of Peter Watts. Collateral Damage marks the first point in the third season where Peter Watts feels like the character that we watched grow and evolve over the second season. This is a version of Peter who has so repressed his doubts and uncertainties that they threaten to explode if they are even acknowledged. It is a much more compelling character than the knock-off conspirator featured in episodes like Exegesis and Skull and Bones.

"Don't be afraid."

“Don’t be afraid.”

From the third season, Collateral Damage takes its fixation on the link between the Millennium Group and conspiracies involving the American government. Collateral Damage suggests that the Millennium Group is responsible for Gulf War Syndrome. It feels like a plot point from an episode of The X-Files – and arguably makes it an ideal third season element. The result is perhaps the most all-encompassing episode of the show ever produced. Collateral Damage is not the best episode of Millennium ever produced, but it is perhaps the broadest representation of the show itself.

If you were to pull back and examine Millennium from a distance, it might look a lot like Collateral Damage.

"Surgical strike."

“Surgical strike.”

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Millennium – Owls (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.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness; I am become as an owl of the waste places.

– Psalm 102:6

Birds of prey...

Birds of prey…

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The X-Files – Tempus Fugit (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.

Conspiracy lives in the gaps.

Conspiracy theories grow in the gaps of history. They multiple and divide in the absences on the historical record. They entangle and dissemble in the lacunas of memory. In many ways, conspiracy theories represent an attempt to impose order upon a chaotic universe, to know the unknowable. They grow from doubts and questions, holes and voids. Every ellipsis, every redacted line points towards infinite possibilities. Every “no comment” is but conformation of the worst possible outcome.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

Tempus Fugit opens with a nine-minute gap before a plane crash that claims over one hundred lives. Max closes with another nine-minute gap that sees the ever-elusive proof slip through Mulder’s fingers once again. However, Tempus Fugit and Max are not truly “conspiracy” episodes. Characters like the Cigarette-Smoking Man, the Well-Manicured Man, Alex Krycek and Marita Covarrubias are all absent. Even the sinister functions of shadowy government officials are outsourced to “Cummins Aerospace”, a government contractor never mentioned on the show before or since.

Instead, Tempus Fugit and Max are focused on the little people trying to assemble what they can from these gaps. Mike Millar is an honest and hard-working member of the National Transportation and Safety Board trying to piece together a crashed aeroplane. Max Fenig is trying to piece together some meaning for all his suffering. Mulder and Scully are trying to piece together the truth. Even the aliens themselves seem to be searching. Tempus Fugit and Max are populated with characters trying desperately to make sense of the gaps.

Fly by night...

Fly by night…

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