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Star Trek: Voyager – Inside Man (Review)

Inside Man is a curious episode.

It is a seventh season episode that feels very much like a first season episode. To be fair, this is perhaps par for the course with any long-running series approaching a definite ending. Both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got a little nostalgic in their final seasons. The Next Generation neatly bookended Encounter at Farpoint by picking up on the dangling thread of Q’s trial of humanity in All Good Things…, while Deep Space Nine revisited first season ideas like the “one hundred” in Chimera or Quark mistakenly thinking that he was replacing Zek in The Dogs of War.

“I’d counsel against that.”

Star Trek: Voyager was always going to be a little bit more nostalgic than most, given that the nature of the show involved a long journey back towards the familiar and the recognisable. The closer that Voyager got to home, the stronger the urge to look backwards. The seventh season of Voyager evokes the early seasons in a number of ways, such as the manner in which Repression tries to resurrect the Maquis conflict and even brings in a guest star last seen in Learning Curve or the surprise return of Joseph Carey as a guest star in Friendship One.

However, Inside Man has its own very strange nostalgia at its core. The episode builds on sixth season episodes like Pathfinder or Life Line, even including a number of recurring guest stars from those earlier episodes. However, its tone and its plot elements feel like they belong a much earlier script. Inside Man is an episode that treats the Ferengi as semi-serious antagonists who would murder more than a hundred people for a profit, which ignores a lot of their development on Deep Space Nine and jumps right back to their characterisation in early Next Generation episodes like The Last Outpost or Peak Performance.

“I mean, to be fair, they also couldn’t outwit the Kazon.”

However, at the core of the episode is a plot device that the series largely moved past in its second season, and one which feels strangely out of place on what amounts to the home stretch of Voyager. The plot of Inside Man revolves around a promise to get the ship and crew home ahead of schedule, the kind of promise that was frequently dangled in front of the crew in earlier episodes like Eye of the Needle, Cold Fire and False Profits. While it would be teased in later episodes like Hope and Fear or Bliss, it was never with the same intensity.

The irony with these earlier stories was that the audience understood, on some level,how unlikely it was that the ship and crew would be getting home. After all, the entire premise of Voyager was that it was a starship stranded on the far side of the galaxy, isolated from familiar support systems. To bring the ship home would represent a complete betrayal of the premise, even more than downplaying the tension with the Maquis or completely ignoring questions about which set of rules the crew would follow. If Voyager brought the ship home in a random episode in those first seasons, it would be a catastrophic admission of defeat.

Just a Reg-ular Barclay.

In Inside Man, a slight variation on the same central tension exists. Any audience member with any level of televisual literacy would understand that the ship and crew would be returning home at the end of the seventh season; this was the end of Voyager, and that ending had to involve the fulfillment of the show’s basic premise. However, given the show’s conservatism, it was highly unlikely that the crew would be getting home in such an early episode and certainly not as part of a plot involving the Ferengi. Inside Man is the most obvious sort of shell game, where there’s nothing hidden under any of the cups.

However, what’s most striking about Inside Man is that the script seems almost self-aware. The episode is glib and wry, repeatedly seeming like an extended joke being played by the savvy audience and the smirking writers on the series itself. Inside Man is based around the promise that the crew might be returning home, but is immediately established to the audience as nothing more than an empty hustle. The cruel irony (and the most wry punchline) is that the characters themselves remain in the dark even after the con is long over.

Getting into her head.

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Luke Cage – They Reminisce Over You (Review)

The queen is dead. Long live the king.

They Reminisce Over You is a fascinating piece of television. Running seventy minutes, it is easily the longest episode of Luke Cage. It is also, despite complaints about the “Netflix bloat”, one of the most tightly plotted. More than that, it exists primarily as a coda to a story that wrapped up in Can’t Front on Me. It exists largely to wrap a little bow around the various plot threads left dangling by that ending, and to set up a springboard from which the next season might build. It is remarkably well constructed, in a way that episodes of these Marvel Netflix series rarely are.

It also marks a clear point of transition. They Reminisce Over You marks the end of Mariah Dillard’s journey. Mariah is one of the most essential aspects of Luke Cage, one of relatively few characters to have made her first appearance in Moment of Truth and remained a constant fixture through the first two seasons. Cornell Stokes is dead. Pops is dead. Bobby Fish has traveled to the other part of the country. Rafael Scarfe is dead. Mariah is one of four major characters with that through line; herself, Luke, Shades and Misty. She is a big part of the show.

As such, the end of her journey is a big deal.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Ashes to Ashes (Review)

Death is inevitable and inescapable. It comes to all in time.

Death provides a sense of closure. It marks an end of a journey. It establishes a boundary that might serve as an outline of a life. Death is the high price of living, the unavoidable reckoning that waits beyond the mortal veil. Death is the final frontier, one which all cross in time. Death is the undiscovered country, from which none have returned and about which all must wonder. Sometimes death comes quickly, sometimes it lurks and stalks its prey, sometimes it is even embrace. Nevertheless, death always comes.

The sad ballad of Lyndsay Ballard.

By the sixth season of Star Trek: Voyager, the Star Trek franchise was acutely aware of its own mortality and the unavoidable nature of its own death. Ratings were in decline, and there was no reprieve in sight. The fans were growing increasingly angry with the franchise’s output, and the press was eager to turn on the grand old man of television science fiction. Ronald D. Moore had been forced to quit the franchise, and Brannon Braga would later confess that this was the point at which all of his creative energy had been exhausted.

This mortality hangs over the sixth season of Voyager. The fifth season had repeatedly fixated on the idea of Voyager as a series trapped in time, an inevitability: the thwarted suicide attempts of Janeway in Night and of Torres in Extreme Risk; the frozen ship and crew in Timeless; the multiple copies of Seven of Nine and Janeway in Relativity; the decaying and collapsing imitations in Course: Oblivion, barely registering as a blip on the “real” crew’s radar; the rejection of millennial anxiety in 11:59; even the crew’s broken counterparts in Equinox, Part I.

Mortal clay.

In contrast, the sixth season returns time and again to the idea of death and decay: the ruined empire in Dragon’s Teeth; the underworld in Barge of the Dead; the ghost story in The Haunting of Deck Twelve; the floating tomb in One Small Step; the memories of a massacre in Memorial; the dead Borg Cube in Collective; the vengeful death throes of the returning Kes in Fury; the EMH’s visit to an aging and frail relative in Life Line; the Borg heads on spikes in Unimatrix Zero, Part I. This is to say nothing of the funereal tone of Blink of an Eye.

Ashes to Ashes is perhaps the most literal articulation of this recurring theme and preoccupation, the episode that most strongly and overtly explores the sixth season’s fascination with death and decay. The episode centres on a one-time guest star, a deceased member of the crew who has been resurrected by an alien species and seeks to return to the land of the living. Inevitably, she discovers that this is not possible. Death cannot be outwitted or evaded. It always catches up.

Whose episode is it anyway?

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77. Avengers: Infinity War – This Just In (#10)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, and this time with Tony Black, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo’s Avengers: Infinity War.

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Non-Review Review: Avengers – Infinity War

There is a solid argument to be made for the Marvel Cinematic Universe as blockbuster television series that only releases three or four films in a given year.

There’s a lot of evidence to support this argument, perhaps most notably the directors chosen for “phase two” of the grand experiment. Joss Whedon might have directed Serenity and Much Ado About Nothing, but he remains known for his game-changing work on television series like Buffy: The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse. Removing Patty Jenkins from Thor: The Dark World and replacing her with Alan Taylor only reinforced this sense. Drafting in the Russo Brothers from Community to direct Captain America: The Winter Soldier cemented the notion.

Purple reign.

Indeed, the elevation of the Russo Brothers within the Marvel Studios hierarchy with Captain America: Civil War and with Avengers: Infinity War suggests the obvious similarities between managing the sprawling continuity of the shared cinematic universe and the day-to-day management of a television show, where individual instalments might be credited to individual authors, but it is also important to maintain consistency of tone and vision across the entire line. Infinity War suggests the sort of organisational ability associated with long-form television storytelling more than any single cinematic narrative.

There are moments in which this approach works. Infinity War is full of knowing winks and callbacks, allusions and references. There is a sense of set-up and pay-off to certain threads and arcs seeded across the eighteen previous films within the established brand. Characters get emotional scenes that play upon established relationships and dynamics, which are clearly articulated within the film itself, but building off years of watching (and rewatching) these actors play off one another in these roles. There is an undeniable weight to Infinity War that simply would not be possible without that television storytelling style.

Avengers assembled.

At the same time, there are reminders of the limitations of this approach, of the challenges of balancing individual stories with a larger plan for the narrative universe in which they unfold. This is particularly notable because Marvel Studios recently shifted towards a more director-friendly approach in some of its standalone productions. Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2 are both undeniably James Gunn productions. Black Panther could only have come from Ryan Coogler. Thor: Ragnarok worked as well as it did because of the unique directorial stylings of Taika Waititi.

Watching Infinity War, it becomes clear how far these directors deviated from the established style sheet, and the difference in approach between these directors and the Russo Brothers. It occasionally feels like Infinity War was constructed by people who watched those movies, without understanding why they worked as well. There is a tonal awkwardness when these characters are woven back into the fabric of the shared universe, in a manner that is occasionally unquantifiable but sometimes fundamental.

Guardians… Get In There?

Infinity War is good, clean fun. Perhaps too good and too clean. In order put the jigsaw pieces together, all of the rough edges have been sanded off. Anything that might generate friction has been stripped away, creating the impression of a very smooth and very functional storytelling engine. Midway through the film, Thor ruminates upon the existence of fate and how it has led him towards this particular moment and beyond to a greater purpose. Doctor Steven Strange perceives one single happy ending to this crisis.

There is a sense that Thor and Strange perceive the vast narrative machine of Infinity War working around them. It is an impressive machine, if a somewhat inhuman one.

Things look pretty Stark.

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Non-Review Review: Finding Your Feet

Finding Your Feet is a fairly placid and mostly unobjectionable film that adheres to an increasingly familiar formula, a gentle reminder that life can often begin at sixty.

Finding Your Feet largely coasts off the charm of its cast, who seem to be having an enjoyable time with one another and appreciating the opportunity to find themselves cast as romantic leads in a globe-trotting adventure. In particular, there is something disarming in seeing Timothy Spall cast as a charming romantic lead, a disarmingly sincere lovable rogue who inevitably scrubs up quite nicely. Finding Your Feet offers very few surprises, but that is part of the attraction, perhaps worried that too many surprises might throw off the presumed viewer.

Spall good, baby.

However, Finding Your Feet is too awkward and clumsy to allow the audience to get entirely caught up in the familiar beats and rhythms of the tale. The familiar plotting of Finding Your Feet helps compensate for some strange storytelling decisions, with major character arcs unfolding off-screen and the film trying to fill its run time with things happening rather than focusing on the people to whom these things are happening.

Finding Your Feet is bland and inoffensive, its central cast providing a disarming charm that the movie never quite earns.

The sequel will feature a new addition to the cast and will be titled, ‘So You Think You Can Charles Dance?’

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63. Coco – This Just In (#37)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, This Just In is a subset of The 250 podcast, looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina’s Coco.

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