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Star Trek: Voyager – The Disease (Review)

One of the curses of Star Trek is the tendency to saddle the weakest and most ill-defined members of a given ensemble with a generic soul-destroyingly dull love story.

Deanna Troi has Haven, The Price and Man of the People. Geordi LaForge has Booby Trap and Galaxy’s Child. In the first few years of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, both Bashir and Dax were subjected to such plots. Bashir had Melora, and Second Sight was originally developed with his character in mind. Dax got a similar story in Meridian. Chakotay has Unforgettable, and was shipped with both Janeway and Seven at various points in the run of Star Trek: Voyager. Even Mayweather’s subplot in Demons and Terra Prime was romantic in nature.

Kiss and Tal.

Of course, there are any number of compelling and interesting  romantic episodes built around characters over the history of the franchise. Kirk had The City on the Edge of Forever. Spock had All Our Yesterdays. Tuvok had Gravity. Even the more developed seventh season version of Bashir had Chrysalis. However, it frequently seems like the production team’s go-to plot for an underdeveloped regular character is a romance-of-the-week plotline, perhaps because it is a fairly standard story and because it can be applied to almost any type of character.

However, the problem with building these romantic storylines around undeveloped characters is that they lack any real hook. The audience implicitly understands that the romantic interest is unlikely to stick around, so the story has offer a compelling insight into the regular character. This is understandably difficult if the production team have chosen to tell this story with this character because they really cannot think of any other interesting story to tell. As a result, these episodes can feel like an exercise in boredom, in watching wheels turn.

“Dammit, Harry. I thought we had this conversation after Favourite Son.”

This is particularly true in episodes built around weaker (or more disinterested) members of the ensemble. In a romantic installment of an episodic show, the audience needs to invest in the love story very quickly. This puts a lot of pressure on a performer to sell the romantic attraction. On a weekly schedule, with two performers who may not know one another particularly well, this can be very difficult to accomplish. Robert Beltran is a relatively serviceable performer with the right material, but he would never make a convincing romantic lead.

The Disease is a romantic episode built around Harry Kim. While the script has its own very severe problems, the biggest issue is that Garrett Wang simply cannot sell the intense attraction that is necessary for the episode to work.

Colony ship collapse disorder.

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The X-Files – El Mundo Gira (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.

The X-Files is a show that sometimes has difficulties when it comes to portraying minorities.

There are lots of episodes that offer insightful and thoughtful explorations of isolated subcultures, without veering into offensive stereotypes or awkward cliché. Fresh Bones and Hell Money are two examples of the kinds of stories that do offer those sorts of interesting and respectful depictions of minorities. In contrast, the show can sometimes seem a little close-minded and xenophobic. Excelsis Dei, Teso Dos Bichos and Teliko are episodes with somewhat questionable depictions of other cultures.

Illegal aliens.

Illegal aliens.

Writer John Shiban likes his horror tropes. He adores the classic horror movie trappings, and revels in a very old-school approach to scary stories. Unfortunately, the horror genre has an unfortunate history of exploitation and racism when it comes to the portrayal of “the other.” The easiest way to make something scary and unknown is to make it foreign, suggesting that the outside world is filled with horrors and monstrosities. Shiban would hit on this trashy exploitation vibe repeatedly during his tenure on The X-Files.

El Mundo Gira is very much a companion piece to Shiban’s other stories about foreign monsters – the indigenous cat-people of Teso Dos Bichos and the butt-dwelling Indian fakir of Badlaa. It is a not a story set in the world of Mexican-American immigrants; it is a story set in a clumsy stereotypical depiction of the world of Mexican-American immigrants, as channelled through unfortunate racial stereotypes.

Green haze...

Green haze…

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Star Trek: Voyager – Phage (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Phage is far from perfect. It is very far from perfect. However, there’s something rather endearing about this cheesy B-movie throwback written by Brannon Braga from a pitch by Timothy DeHass and first draft by Skye Dent. The Vidiians are probably the most memorably and effective aliens from the first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, feeling like they could have wandered into the show from some trashy late-night horror movie on another channel.

There’s a pulpy quality to the episode that makes it more enjoyable than many of the surrounding Voyager episodes, albeit one undermined by some of the more awkward resonances in the script.

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth...

The Vidiians survive by the skin of their teeth…

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The X-Files – F. Emasculata (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

The wonderful thing about the second season of The X-Files is the spirit of experimentation. There’s a sense that the show is consciously pushing itself to try new things, to figure out what works. Watching the second season of the show, you can see the series’ outline beginning to take shape, even if it’s not full developed yet. The third season of The X-Files would seem a lot stronger and more cohesive, but it was building off the lessons learned during the second season.

Sometimes those experiments worked well. For example, the first stretch of the season demonstrated that the show could do an arc spanning multiple episodes. Colony and End Game established the foundations of the larger “colonisation” mythology even beyond “the government knows about aliens and they sometimes abduct people.” Episodes like Die Hand Die Verletzt and Humbug demonstrated that the show could do comedy stories and step outside its comfort zones.

Has everybody caught the Ebola bug?

Has everybody caught the Ebola bug?

Of course, there were a few narrative dead-ends as well, a few experiments that did not work as well as they might. Most notably, the tail end of the season leans rather heavily on science-fiction high-concepts. The elements introduced in Colony and End Game work well enough, but shows like Soft Light and Død Kälm feel almost like episodes of some other science-fiction anthology show. Still, there’s a sense that the show is trying to figure out what exactly it wants to be.

F. Emasculata is a wonderful example of that spirit of experimentation, effectively tapping into nineties health scares within the framework of a conspiracy thriller.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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Non-Review Review: Contagion

It’s somewhat ironic that the biggest fault with Contagion is that it’s not nearly clinical enough. Soderbergh’s exploration of the impact of a mass pandemic actually works best when the director pulls back to give us a high-level overview of a society collapsing, the individual lives reduced – appropriately enough – to microscopic cells in a larger organism in what might be its death throes. It’s these sequences and shots that are brilliantly effective, demonstrating the systemic and group dynamics that enable and facilitate the spread of a deadly bird flu variant, while the more intimate moments feel awkward and shoehorned in, never afforded enough space to develop character or plot lines. Still, if you pull back and look at the big picture, Soderbergh’s latest effort is an engaging ambitious disaster movie.

One sick picture...

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