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New Escapist Column! The Real Paradox at the Heart of the Post-“Judgment Day” Terminator Sequels…

I published a new In the Frame piece at Escapist Magazine on Monday. This one is taking a look at Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest effort to produce a faithful and worthy sequel to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

However, there’s an abiding irony to the four attempted sequels to James Cameron’s blockbuster classic. The four films all hope to position themselves as worthy successors to Judgment Day, while their very existence serves as a repudiation of its core themes. There is an inherent contradiction there, in that any attempt to honour or homage Judgment Day must – by its mere existence – invalidate the central thematic point. None of the four attempts to produce a workable sequel to Judgment Day have managed to square that particular circle.

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – What You Leave Behind (Review)

Ending a television series is always a daunting proposition, even with ten episodes allocated to that purpose.

There are very few “perfect” television finales, very few final episodes that perfectly encapsulate everything that made a television series great. Indeed, many popular television series end with underwhelming finales. Some are even retroactively tarnished by this legacy; The Finale for SeinfeldDaybreak for Battlestar GalacticaThe End for Lost. To its credit, the Star Trek franchise arguably has one perfect finale with All Good Things…, the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

A touching conclusion…

It might have been greedy to ask for two such perfect finales, especially in such close proximity to one another. What You Leave Behind is not a perfect finale by any measure. It is clumsy in places, it makes bad choices in others. The audience can feel the budgetary constraints on the production team at certain points, and the time constraints on the writing team at others. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does not end with a “perfect” two-part episode. It ends in a messy fashion.

Still, even if What You Leave Behind is not a perfect television finale, it is a good one. What You Leave Behind doesn’t do everything that it could do, but it does everything that it needs to. While clumsiness and awkwardness hold the episode back from perfection, they exist in such a way as to add to its charm. What You Leave Behind captures the spirit of Deep Space Nine, in its successes and its failures. What You Leave Behind is a finale that speaks to the core essence of its show, to its best and its worst selves in the same breath.

The big goodbye.

The result is a finale that feels satisfying and earned, despite its narrative miscalculations. What You Leave Behind is true to Deep Space Nine, and focuses primarily on trying to pay off seven years of character threads and two years of story. Its gravest mistakes are inherited, the result of decisions made more than a year earlier in episodes like Waltz or The Reckoning that were allowed to fester and grow over the following thirty-odd episodes. Even in its failures, What You Leave Behind is trying to do right by its story.

There is a large gulf in quality between All Good Things… and What You Leave Behind. However, that gap is smaller than the space that separates What You Leave Behind from Turnabout Intruder, Endgame or These Are the Voyages… For all its issues, there is something heartbreaking in What You Leave Behind. There is a sense that this is truly the end of the line, that things have changed and the world keeps right on spinning.

We all need a little space…

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The X-Files – Sunshine Days (Review)

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

Well, here’s hopin’ the TV stays off and he learns how to love the real world.

– Doggett stops just short of adding “… and that goes for you as well.”

The X-Files was always a more romantic show than it would readily admit.

The popular image of the show might be Mulder and Scully walking through darkness searching for a truth that may never be revealed or a hideous monster preying upon innocent victims. Chris Carter’s most successful work might be rooted in the dual betrayals of Watergate and Vietnam. The characters might stalk car parks late at night or explore the darkest corners of the urban landscape. Mulder and Scully might be abducted by forces beyond their control, and subjected to the cruel whims of uncaring fate. The show’s motto might be “trust no one.”

"Let's call it a day..."

“Let’s call it a day…”

Nevertheless, that cynicism is offset with a deep-seated romance. “Trust no one” is one of the defining mantras of The X-Files, but there are other more optimistic catchphrases; “I want to believe” and “the truth is out there.” Optimism outvotes cynicism by a two-to-one majority. It is not quite a decisive victory, but it is something in this cynical and chaotic world. While Mulder and Scully might never actually find the truth which they so desperately seek, they did find one another. That is more than either could have hoped and than some people can claim.

Sunshine Days is a staggeringly romantic and optimistic piece of television. Indeed, it suggests that the cynicism of The X-Files was really just a practiced veneer. As the title suggests, Sunshine Days allows the central cast to smile more frequently over forty-five minutes than most have in the course of their entire run on the show. As with the rest of the show, Sunshine Days is rooted in the culture of the seventies. However, there is something quite heartwarming in how Vince Gilligan eschews All the President’s Men for The Brady Bunch.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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The X-Files – Existence (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.

This is not the end.

But it really should be. At least for Mulder and Scully.

There was no season nine. What are you talking about?

There was no season nine.
What are you talking about?

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The X-Files – Field Trip (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.

Field Trip works well as the penultimate episode of the sixth season.

It returns to a lot of big ideas threaded through the sixth season, particularly as they relate to endings and mortality. It also pushes the bond between Mulder and Scully to the fore; it feels like something of a spiritual successor to both Bad Blood and Folie á Deux in its portrayal of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully, charting a rough arc in how Mulder and Scully come to see themselves and each other. Even beyond all that, it contains another surrogate romantic relationship for Mulder and Scully, this time in Wallace and Angela Schiff.

A lot to digest...

A lot to digest…

More to the point, Field Trip seems to hit on the core anxieties at the heart of the sixth season. It is a meditation on the show’s success and the status quo that has to be so careful maintained to keep the show from tipping over. As with TriangleDreamland IDreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and Monday, our heroes find themselves trapped in something of a weird alternate reality. The climax of Field Trip hinges on both Mulder and Scully deducing that their world operates according to the logic of a television show.

However, Field Trip is perhaps most intriguing in the way that it proposes two separate endings to The X-Files. The humongous fungus at the heart of Field Trip offers both Mulder and Scully a conclusion to their six-year journey, an opportunity for closure and satisfaction. In doing so, Field Trip suggests that it is the central tension at the heart of The X-Files that keeps the show young. There is no way to end the show without absolutely and definitively declaring that one of the characters is right and the other is wrong.

Down the rabbit hole...

Down the rabbit hole…

As such, the endings seem mutually exclusive. Field Trip suggests that endings designed to satisfy Mulder and Scully and mutually exclusive and irreconcilable – recalling the implication in Bad Blood that both Mulder and Scully filter the same events through different lenses. However, Field Trip is rather more optimistic in its assessment of the dynamic between Mulder and Scully. While it might not be able to provide an ending to the show that satisfies both, Field Trip suggests that the duo have reconciled themselves to each other.

Whereas Bad Blood seemed to state that Mulder and Scully would never share the same perspective, Field Trip suggests that both characters have evolved and matured to the point where they can see the world through the eyes of the other. Bad Blood featured the two characters positing wildly different accounts of the same event, but Field Trip only resolves when Mulder and Scully come to share each other’s perspective. It feels entirely appropriate to close out the sixth season suggesting a new harmony between the two leads.

It's a dirty job...

It’s a dirty job…

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End of the Line: Unearned Happy Endings…

I reviewed Baby Mama earlier today and – while I was impressed with the film’s willingness to tackle a somewhat controversial topic – I was less than impressed by the somewhat conventional ending tacked on to the film. And then I mellowed out a bit. “It is a comedy after all,” I reminded myself, in the hope that I would forgive the film because it wasn’t a black comedy – most lighthearted comedies call for a light-hearted ending, after all. Besides, this particular film isn’t the only film in recent memory to resort to a disappointingly conventional ending, so why does it bother me so much?

Not everybody gets a fairytale ending...

Note: As you may have guessed from the topic, I’ll be discussing endings here – particularly the one from Baby Mama. Consider yourself warned, there are spoilers ahead.

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No Man is an Island: The Ending of Shutter Island…

I’ve probably said too much in my review of Shutter Island already, but the ending of the film merits discussion on its own, away from the chance of spoiling the viewing experience for anyone – much like I did with the ending of Inglourious Basterds.

Maybe Elias Koteas can shed some light on the ending...

Note: As the title and text directly above imply (or explicitly state), this post is about the ending of a movie currently in major release that you may or may not have seen. Reading ahead may ruin your enjoyment of the film if you haven’t already seen it. You have been warned.

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