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Star Trek: Voyager – The Voyager Conspiracy (Review)

The Voyager Conspiracy builds off the nostalgia of One Small Step, paving the way for the nostalgia of Pathfinder.

One of the more interesting aspects of the final two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager is the way in which the show embraces a weird nostalgia, both for the utopian future of the larger Star Trek franchise and also for its own earlier seasons. To be fair, the seeds for this nostalgia were arguably sown during the fifth season, with an increased emphasis on the events of Caretaker in episodes like Night, Relativity and Equinox, Part I, as well as elements like Janeway’s exploration of her family history in 11:59, the fake Earth in In the Flesh, and the return to the Maquis in Extreme Risk.

“What’s all this buzz about?”

Nevertheless, the sixth and seventh seasons of Voyager embrace the nostalgia that has been woven into the series from the outset, the journey toward the “familiar” and the “recognisable.” After all, Voyager has always been a show about the desire to return, but it is particularly interesting to see that urge to go backwards including metaphorical journeys into the history of both the Star Trek franchise and Voyager itself. The final seasons of Voyager apply the idea of returning home reflexively, it often feeling like a desire to slip backwards in time as much as space.

It is interesting to wonder what drives this nostalgia for the early years of Voyager in these final two seasons. Perhaps this wistful yearning is driven by the fact that the show is approaching its end, and is reflecting upon its own nostalgia. Perhaps the series is anxious at being the only Star Trek show on the air for the first time in its run, hoping to return to the safety and security of those early years. Perhaps it ties into a broader cultural anxiety about the millennium, a reflection of the same “end of history” anxiety that informed stories like Future’s End, Part I, Future’s End, Part II and Living Witness.

Getting into her head.

Whatever the reason, The Voyager Conspiracy feels like an exploration of the Voyager‘s continuity. The plot of the episode finds Seven of Nine effectively binge-watching the first few seasons of the show and trying to structure them into something resembling a cohesive story arc. In doing so, The Voyager Conspiracy includes an uncharacteristic selections of nods and references to earlier episodes; Caretaker, Cold FireManoeuvres, The Gift, Message in a Bottle, The Killing Game, Part I, The Killing Game, Part IIDark Frontier, Part IDark Frontier, Part II.

As such, it is an oddity in the larger context of Voyager, a television series largely defined by the absence of episode-to-episode continuity. Indeed, it is quite telling that The Voyager Conspiracy treats such continuity as inherently dangerous and destabilising influence on Voyager.

Dinner table conversation.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – It’s Only a Paper Moon (Review)

It’s Only a Paper Moon is a fantastic illustration of a lot of things that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does consistently well.

It is an episode that builds off events depicted in an earlier story, picking up with the character of Nog following the loss of his leg in The Siege of AR-558. In many ways, It’s Only a Paper Moon feels like a necessary part of that earlier adventure, dealing with the consequences of something truly horrific. It would have been cheap and crass to gloss over the enormity of what had happened to Nog. In The Siege of AR-558, the loss of Nog’s leg was a minor detail; one of many reminders of how war is hell. It’s Only a Paper Moon allows that story to play out in more depth.

“I’ll be seeing you…”

It’s Only a Paper Moon is also an episode that feels quite removed from what audiences expect from a Star Trek episode. The central story focuses on two supporting characters who exist outside the regular cast, trusting Nog and Vic Fontaine to carry a story on their own terms. It is a testament to how well-developed the world of Deep Space Nine has become, recalling the focus on Martok in Soldiers of the Empire or Once More Unto the Breach, Dukat in Indiscretion or Return to Grace and Garak in The Wire or Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast.

Unfolding primarily in a holographic recreation of sixties Las Vegas, It’s Only a Paper Moon is a very surreal and unusual episode of Deep Space Nine. However, it works perfectly in the context of Deep Space Nine.

A hard day’s Nog.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Tuvix (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Tuvix is a controversial piece of Star Trek.

The episode tends to polarise fandom. In particular, the climax of the episode seems to divide fans firmly down the middle. When the fan site Trek Today marked the end of Star Trek: Voyager by staging a mock “Court Martial of Captain Kathryn Janeway”, it was argued that the events of Tuvix should have been included as evidence against her. It is no surprise that the episode generated such a strong response. Discussing the production of the episode, Tom Wright reflected, “The truth is that the higher ups of Star Trek knew that this would cause some controversy.”

"Neevok was never gonna cut it."

“Neevok was never gonna cut it.”

Of course it generates some controversy. This is the episode where Janeway elects to murder one crew member in order to resurrect two lost crew members. This is a story about how the title character is convenient for about forty-five minutes of screentime, only for the crew to quickly dispose of him as soon as the end credits beacon. Tuvix never really makes a convincing moral case for why the eponymous character has to die, beyond the fact that it conveniently resets the status quo.

Then again, perhaps that is reason enough.

Two for the price of one...

Two for the price of one…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Hippocratic Oath (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Hippocratic Oath represents a return to normality for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Way of the Warrior was a feature-length war epic tasked with introducing a new regular character and a new status quo, while The Visitor was an intimate character study that stood quite apart from the show around it. With Hippocratic Oath, the show gets back to business as usual. It even has a classic a-story/b-story split with Bashir and O’Brien’s Gamma Quadrant hijinx juxtaposed with Worf learning his place on the station (and the show).

This is not to suggest that Hippocratic Oath is a bland hour of Star Trek. Indeed, it is a tightly-constructed story that hits on some of the show’s core themes and most interesting dynamics. One of the problems with the third season of Deep Space Nine was the fact that it had a strong start but no idea on how to build from that. Hippocratic Oath seems to serve very much as a “business as usual” episode of the fourth season, helping to set a baseline of quality of the show going forward.

Awkward bromantic moment...

Awkward bromantic moment…

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Jessica Jones – AKA 99 Friends (Review)

Jessica Jones has always been more interested in the style and aesthetic of noir than in its storytelling.

The show’s visual aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities hark to noir. Jessica Jones is a cynical hard-drinking private investigator, who routinely works cases involving cheating spouses. She narrates her harsh reflections of life as she studies the world through the lens of a camera. Meanwhile, sad saxophones play in the background of lonely establishing shots of New York as the city that never sleeps, while our hero works alone late into the night seemingly accomplishing nothing. That is to say nothing of the actual opening sequence, with its impressionistic flair.

jessicajones-99friends11a

While Jessica Jones borrows a lot of the stock archetypes and set-ups associated with noir, its storytelling is more of a hybrid between conventional superhero drama and feminist psychological thriller. The problem is that Jessica Jones never actually feels comfortable with its main character’s profession. Despite the fact that Jessica Jones is a licensed private detective, the eponymous character spends precious little time actually detecting stuff. Jessica’s investigations are generally in pursuit of Kilgrave, with her profession treated as a background detail.

AKA 99 Friends demonstrates how uncomfortable Jessica Jones is with this aspect of its title character. Over the course of the show’s thirteen-episode run, AKA 99 Friends is the closest that the show comes to offering a straightforward “case of the week” episode. Unfortunately, it is pretty terrible.

jessicajones-99friendsa

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The X-Files – Three Words (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.

There is no “to be continued…” explicitly linking DeadAlive to Three Words, but there doesn’t have to be.

In this final stretch of the eighth season, The X-Files adapts a somewhat serialised narrative model. Although stories like Empedocles and Vienen technically serve as “monster of the week” stories that stand alone, they feel very particular to this moment in the show’s history. Mulder’s return to the land of the living in DeadAlive does not mark a return to the status quo, despite his best efforts. Instead, it creates a highly volatile (and, by its nature, transitory) set-up that cannot be maintained over an extended period.

Howard Salt was willing to go to any lengths to return the President's copy of The X-Files film.

Howard Salt was willing to go to any lengths to return the President’s copy of The X-Files film.

This is not a sustainable status quo. This is not “business as usual.” This is not what the ninth season will look like. This is not like those other changes to the status quo that occurred at the start of the second and sixth seasons, when Mulder and Scully were taken off the X-files but continued to investigate cases that were X-files in all but name. Episodes like Blood or How the Ghosts Stole Christmas could be transitioned into a regular season order with a minimum of changes, but these episodes all feel uniquely tailored to this point in the show’s history.

As such, the end of the eighth season takes on a loosely serialised quality, and not just in the story of the new mythology or the so-called “super soldiers.” The character dynamics evolve and grow, with the individual episodes seeding character development leading the season finalé. Episodes like Three Words and Vienen make it increasingly clear that Mulder is not back in an permanent sense by first pushing him away from the X-files and then firing him from the FBI. Scully’s pregnancy is actually allowed to progress at this point in the season.

He's back!

He’s back!

This serialisation is apparent in the discrepancies between the production and broadcast order. As with extended sections of the fourth season, the final stretch of the eighth season was produced in a different order than it was broadcast. Unlike the fourth season, however, this shift does not create any dissonance as significant as the conflict between the version of Never Again that was filmed and the one that was broadcast. Despite being produced in a different order, these stories could not work in any order other than the broadcast order.

Although The X-Files frequently gets credit for pioneering and popularising (or, at the very least, re-popularising) serialised narratives on prime-time television, the final stretch of the eighth season is perhaps the serialised stretch of the entire nine-year run.

A touching reunion...

A touching reunion…

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Harsh Realm – Kein Ausgang (Review)

This November, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

So, what does an average episode of Harsh Realm look like?

After all, the show was cancelled after only three episodes had been broadcast. Those three episodes were all written by the creator, and formed something of a loose introduction to the show. Inga Fossa ended with our protagonist finally accepting his place in the virtual world and his mission to defeat General Omar Santiago before the dictator can destroy the real world. There is a sense that the show had yet to even demonstrate what a regular episode of Harsh Realm might look like. It was over before it had even begun.

Jumping into action...

Jumping into action…

Kein Ausgang is the first episode of Harsh Realm to be written by somebody other than Chris Carter. As such, it is an important milestone in the development of the series. It is also the first of two episodes written by Steven Maeda, who would prove to be a pretty reliable set of hands in the life of the young show. Based on his contributions to Harsh Realm, it is easy to see why Carter drafted Maeda over to The X-Files in the wake of Harsh Realm‘s cancellation, even if his contributions to that show were a little more uneven.

Kein Ausgang offers an interesting glimpse of what Harsh Realm might have looked like going forward, if Fox had waited more than three episodes to cancel the show.

Shining a light on it...

Shining a light on it…

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