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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Covenant (Review)

Covenant is a flawed and fascinating episode.

In its own way, although obviously a much less extreme manner than The Siege of AR-558, this is an episode that could only have been produced on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. This is not simply down to matters of continuity, and how the episode ties into the mythology of the series. More specifically, it is an exploration of religious themes and ideas that is only really possible within the framework of this particular Star Trek spin-off. It is difficult to imagine Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager tackling the idea of religious cults so effectively.

Altaring his plans.

Part of this is down to a lingering suspicion that the other Star Trek shows subtly (or not so subtly) consider all religions to be cults. After all, shows like The Return of the Archons, The Apple, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the SkyJustice, Who Watches the Watchers? and Devil’s Due left little room for ambiguity. The other Star Trek series seem downright hostile to the idea of religious belief, even if episodes like The Cloud and Sacred Ground might suggest a more open-minded approach to spirituality.

Deep Space Nine has generally been more willing to engage with the idea of religious belief as something that is worthy of exploration and consideration, something that is for an individual to determine on their own terms. Some characters on Deep Space Nine are explicitly atheist, like Jadzia Dax or Odo. Some characters hold strong religious beliefs, like Kira or Nog. Some characters believe in spiritual traditions without ever seeming particularly devote, like Worf. Some characters even evolve over the course of the series, like Sisko.

Preach out and touch faith.

This willingness to accept multiple facets and forms of religious belief allows Deep Space Nine to construct a story like Covenant. In any other Star Trek series, Covenant would seem like a knee-jerk dismissal of religious faith and organised belief, the tale of how a group of Bajorans were swindled by a charismatic leader with tragic consequences. It would be read as a generic condemnation of religious belief, an endorsement of an atheistic worldview that has developed beyond the need for such superstition.

Instead, Covenant is something more interesting and nuanced than that. It is an episode about a particular kind of belief, about a particular sort of religion. It is an episode about the dangers of a very particular form of worship. It is an episode about the perils of religious cults, but one which understands the distinction between that and other forms of spirituality.

He hasn’t a prayer.

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Millennium – Beware of the Dog (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.

Beware of the Dog opens with the shot of the same comet discussed at the start of The Beginning and the End, just in case viewers thought that The Beginning and the End was somehow a fluke or a deviation. The Beginning and the End was not a freak occurrence, it was not some random divergence from the rest of Millennium. It was very much a new beginning for the series, harking in a bold new direction utterly unlike that marked out by The Pilot. The second season of Millennium was a new breed of animal.

And so a lot of Beware of the Dog is devoted to reinforcing this new direction – convincing the viewers at home that Millennium had reinvented itself from the ground up. Part of what is interesting about Beware of the Dog is the way that the basic structure and beats of the episode hark back to the formula and themes of the first season, but in a way that makes it quite clear that things have changed. Beware of the Dog embraces the pulpy absurdity of a show about millennial fears and anxieties, about the nature of good and evil in the world.

Call of the wild...

Call of the wild…

Beware of the Dog is a very weird piece of television. It is resoundingly and unapologetically odd. It is nowhere near as quirky and eccentric as the second season would become in episodes like The Curse of Frank Black or Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” or The Time is Now, but decidedly more surreal than the first season had allowed itself to be – even in episodes like Force Majeure or Powers, Principalities, Thrones and Dominions. This is an episode which takes the first season’s “serial killer of the week” format, and substitutes in packs of wild dog.

The result is a piece of television that is quite difficult to classify and quantify, but which feels fresh and exciting. As with The Beginning and the End, there is a playfulness and fun to Beware the Dog that was sorely lacking from extended stretches of the first season. Indeed, it seemed unlikely during the first season that Millennium would ever be classed as “playful” or “fun.” That sense of energy and vibrance imbues the second season with life, helping to carry the show across some admittedly rough episodes later in the year.

Circle of trust...

Circle of trust…

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The X-Files – The Field Where I Died (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.

Morgan and Wong’s four scripts for the fourth season of The X-Files are utterly unlike any other stories in the show’s nine-season run. Experimental, bold, confrontational; these four stories stretch and pull at The X-Files, as if eager to see just how far the hit show will bend.

The Field Where I Died is probably the weakest of these four episodes, but it is also the most ambitious. It is a script with big ideas and a willingness to commit to those ideas. There is no modesty here, no hesitation. There is a sense that Morgan and Wong are committing wholeheartedly to their themes and their concepts. The Field Where I Died is an episode that rubs quite a lot of people the wrong way, for a number of different reasons; however, the episode never pulls its punches. It never holds back. It never tries to be anything that it is not.

Far afield...

Far afield…

There is a lot to admire here. The Field Where I Died is not an episode with a simply formulaic concept or a conventional structure. It looks and feels completely unlike any other episode of the show. Even when the show touched on similar themes in its final season, the result was radically different. Hellbound is a much more conventional episode than The Field Where I Died. More than Home or Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Never Again, this is an episode that really seems like an odd fit for The X-Files.

Then again, that may be the beautiful thing about The Field Where I Died, for all its many flaws. It is utterly unlike anything else on television in the nineties. The fact that it can produce an episode of television so unique and incomparable is ultimately what makes The X-Files feel like The X-Files. The fact that The Field Where I Died feels so unconventional and eccentric is precisely what makes it a worthy episode of The X-Files.

Another roaring success for Mulder...

Another roaring success for Mulder…

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Millennium – Gehenna (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.

Written by Chris Carter and directed by David Nutter, Gehenna feels very much like a continuation of The Pilot.

More to the point, it feels like a restatement of many of the key themes of The Pilot, an attempt to reinforce many of the core ideas in that first episode, and hint at something larger. In many ways, it is about ensuring that Millennium retains its identity as it transitions from a pilot that had a relatively relaxed schedule and high budget into a weekly (well, eight-day) production schedule. Gehenna is about Carter and Nutter proving that Millennium can do what it wants and needs to do week-in and week-out, while also indicating towards larger threads.

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil...

Touching (or, at least, seeing) evil…

This isn’t a bad way to approach the first regular episode of a television series. Indeed, Carter had done something similar with The Pilot and Deep Throat on The X-Files, structuring the episodes as a one-two punch of reinforced themes and world-building. Gehenna is very much about convincing the audience that The Pilot was not just a flash in the pan, and that the series has a long clear arc ahead of it. Much like Deep Throat really sketched the outline of the alien conspiracy only hinted at in The Pilot, Gehenna features more than a few nods towards a larger evil at work in Frank’s world.

There are points where Gehenna feels a little bit too forced, and a little bit too eager to restate and repeat the themes and ideas of The Pilot. However, it is an interesting episode that does hint towards the show’s future in a number of interesting ways.

Ear today...

Ear today…

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The X-Files (Topps) #8-9 – Silent Cities of the Mind (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.

Silent Cities of the Mind is a very “comic book” story – it’s a story that might easily seem outlandish or ridiculous if committed to film, but which works very well within its medium. After all, the plot centres around a bunch of ancient Aztec priests who built an elaborate underground city that could project itself above ground as a mirage. Indeed, the story seems to accept this as a given, with Scully instead spending most of the adventure questioning whether memories can be transmitted via cannibalism.

It’s a concept that could easily seem ridiculous, and it’s a testament to writer Stefan Petrucha and artist Charles Adlard that it works as well as it does. Silent Cities of the Mind is a decidedly pulpy adventure, but that lends the story an undeniable charm. It’s a story packed to the brim with clever and fascinating ideas – from ancient aliens to ritual cannibalism to hidden cities to crystal skulls. All this is crammed tightly into two issues, meaning that everything moves so fast there’s no real time to stop and nitpick it all.

It's all in the mind...

It’s all in the mind…

Mulder is negotiating with survivalists! There are memories transferred through the act of ritual cannibalism! Mulder and Scully are shot down over Alaska! Mulder is trapped with a cannibal! There’s a hidden Aztec city buried underground! Mulder has discovered ancient Aztec mythology! There’s an army rescue team that isn’t a rescue team! There’s a macguffin that allows its wearer to commune with the gods! There’s a stand-off!

It’s all rather exhausting, but in a fun and exciting sort of way. Silent Cities of the Mind is perhaps the best example of how Petrucha and Adlard were writing The X-Files as a comic book, positioning the show’s tropes and iconography within the framework of comic book conventions.

Bonfire of the vanities...

Bonfire of the vanities…

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