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Star Trek: Voyager – Nothing Human (Review)

Nothing Human is very much an example of Star Trek: Voyager doing archetypal Star Trek, those abstract morality plays with elaborate prosthetics that offer commentary on contemporary conundrums.

Nothing Human is essentially a story about scientific ethics, about the question of what to do with information that was gathered through amoral means. Is knowledge tainted by the mechanisms through which it was acquired? Is the use of that research an endorsement of the means through which it was conducted? At the very least, does employing such information erode the user’s moral high ground? Does the use of such data make them a hypocrite, demonstrating a willingness to reap the benefits of such monstrous work, but without getting their hands dirty?

Something inhuman.

These are tough questions, with obvious applications in the modern world. These are the sorts of abstract ethical queries that are well-suited to a Star Trek episode, and there is something very endearing in the way that Nothing Human often comes down to two characters debating scientific ethics in a room together. To be fair, Nothing Human is a little too cluttered and clumsy to be as effective as it might otherwise be, its conclusions a little too neat, its developments just a little bit too tidy.

However, Nothing Human is a great example of the way in which Voyager tried to offer a version of Star Trek reflecting the popular perception of it. Nothing Human is a little clumsy in places, but it is an episode that is very much in line with what casual viewers expect from Star Trek in the abstract.

A Cardie-carrying monster.

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Iron Fist – The Mistress of All Agonies (Review)

Inevitably, being a street-level superhero show that owes a huge stylistic debt to Daredevil, Iron Fist inevitably wades into the whole “thou shalt not kill” side of superheroics.

Matt Murdock has spent the better part of two seasons wrestling with that same question. In the first season, he agonised over the question of whether he should kill Wilson Fisk, a criminal who was otherwise above the law. This angst informed episodes like Nelson v. Murdock and The Path of the Righteous. It was a reasonably solid plot line that worked as well as could be expected because it was rooted as much in Charlie Cox’s performance and Matt Murdock’s Catholicism as in any large moral or legal framework.

Knife to see you…

However, Matt Murdock revisited the question with less success during the second season. Confronted with Frank Castle’s lethal methods of crime fighting and an undead ninja cult, Matt found everything was up for debate. The series did not handle the dilemma with any real sense of grace. Frank Castle constructed a ridiculously elaborate moral dilemma in New York’s Finest, while Matt Murdock seemed to confess that the Punisher’s methods worked in .380. One of the most tone deaf sequences in the series had Frank Castle kill a bad guy so Matt would be spared.

Iron Fist puts it own spin on the age-old debate of vigilante morality. In keeping with the general tone of the series, the debate is lazy and clumsy, ultimately resolved through the same sort of tidy deus ex machina that got Danny proof of identity in Rolling Cannon Thunder Punch and control of his company in Eight Diagram Dragon Palm. It is not satisfying storytelling.

Supervillains understandably have fewer moral qualms about killing.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Breach (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspects of a heightened franchise like Star Trek is the way that invites particular members of staff to define their own voices. On most of the Star Trek shows, it is easy to distinguish the work of particular writers from one another. Ronald D. Moore likes militarism and world-building; Brannon Braga likes time travel and classic science-fiction. There are clear voices that can be distinguished from the choir on each of the shows, for better or for worse.

Although it enjoyed a considerably shorter run than the other Star Trek spin-offs, Star Trek: Enterprise is no exception.  The Breach is a script credited to writers Chris Black and John Shiban. The two had collaborated unofficially on Canamar, a script credited to Shiban alone. The two would work together again on First Flight towards the end of the season. It is certainly a partnership that had considerable potential, if not for Shiban’s departure at the end of the season.

What's up, Doc?

What’s up, Doc?

In many respects, The Breach feels like the product of those two voices. Xenophobia is a major theme of The Breach – as it was in Shiban’s other scripts for the season like Minefield, Dawn or Canamar. Like their last collaboration on Canamar and their future collaboration on First Flight, it seems The Breach presents a more balanced version of Archer than episodes like The Crossing or Horizon. This is a version of Archer who feels compelled to do the right thing, but without the same oppressive self-righteousness that drives his more awkward moments.

However, it seems like Chris Black provides The Breach with its very traditional and old-fashioned Star Trek aesthetic. A veteran of genre television with an understanding of the narrative conventions associated with the franchise, Black understands how Star Trek storytelling is supposed to work. The Breach is perhaps a little too formulaic and traditional in its storytelling, but it does demonstrate that – despite its best efforts – The Crossing had not completely buried a certain optimistic strain of Star Trek ethics.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

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Space: Above and Beyond – Stay With The Dead (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.

There is a nice story buried somewhere in Stay With the Dead. Space: Above and Beyond has generally worked better as a story about warfare than an action-adventure science-fiction show. As such, it’s telling that the best parts of Stay With the Dead have less to do with the plot-driven flashback-ridden mystery at the heart of the episode, and more to do with the aspects of the script that confront the uncomfortable realities of war.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is an absolutely terrifying aspect of armed conflict. War claims lives; countless soldiers and civilians are sacrificed in the name of the greater good. However, even those who survive are left scarred by the experience. The trauma need not be physical. Exposure to combat and warfare can leave a lasting psychological scar. It has widely been suggested that shell-shock and other post-traumatic stress disorders have been under-reported among veterans of previous conflicts.

The wages of warfare...

The wages of warfare…

Stay With the Dead broaches the topic when West is recovered from the field of battle suffering from anxiety attacks and struggling to recall the details of his experience. He is unable to sleep, with even the smallest noise reminding him of his experiences. Army doctors are unable to help him, and make suggestions that seem more interested in what is most convenient for the war effort rather than addressing his own needs. There’s a lot of potentially compelling commentary about how warfare works, and the conflicts of interest that arise.

However, instead of exploring these issues, Stay With the Dead instead becomes a flashback race-against-time mystery. It is not a very good one.

Purple haze...

Purple haze…

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Doctor Who: Kill the Moon (Review)

I don’t like people being sick in my TARDIS. No being sick. And no hanky-panky.

If The Caretaker began the transition into the second half of the season, Kill the Moon completes it. The Twelfth Doctor is established. Peter Capaldi has found his footing. The audience has a clear grasp of what distinguishes his take on the character from the iterations played by David Tennant or Matt Smith. The orderly transition of lead actors is complete; the show can no go about its business. Along with The Caretaker, Kill the Moon marks the point at which the season starts building clearly and concretely towards Death in Heaven.

This is the point at which the show feels free to get a little experimental. With the exception of Listen, the first six stories of the season were all relatively conservative. Deep Breath returned to the Paternoster Gang in order to ease the transition to the new lead. Into the Dalek was the obligatory “Dalek episode.” Although it featured a fictional celebrity, Robot of Sherwood was a throwback to the old school celebrity historical. Time Heist was a light run-around. The Caretaker was the “dump the Doctor into the real world” story.

"Yes, I'm wearing my One Direction shirt. Wanna make something of it?"

“Yes, I’m wearing my One Direction shirt. Wanna make something of it?”

In contrast, the second-half of the season is more bold and experimental. Steven Moffat is not credited as a co-writer, suggesting that the training wheels are coming off. While the first six episodes were all written by established Doctor Who writers, the four episodes between The Caretaker and Dark Water are all credited to newbies. More than that, there is a spirit of experimentation. Kill the Moon and In the Forest of the Night are perhaps two of the most divisive and controversial episodes of the show since it returned in 2005. Only Love and Monsters comes close.

Kill the Moon is bold, provocative, insane and more than a little twisted.

David Tennant has the same tumblr photo...

David Tennant has the same tumblr photo…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Melora (Review)

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is twenty years old this year. To celebrate, I’m taking a look at the first season. Check back daily for the latest review or retrospective.

It’s hard to believe, based on what we’ve witnessed so far, but one day viewers will be able to think “oh, a Bashir episode!” without an involuntary shudder. There will come a time when the writing staff figure out how to write a Bashir-centric episode. In fact, they’ll even revisit this central premise in the show’s final season, in a way that is much less creepy because at least it acknowledges the creepiness. However, we’re a long way from that.

It’s not that Bashir is a bad character. In fact, I’m very fond of him. I think that this version of the character works very well as part of an ensemble, or even teamed up with another major character to carry a story. However, I don’t think that the show has quite figured out how to tell a Bashir-centric story yet. Most notably because – like The Passenger before it – Melora isn’t really about Bashir. At least not in a way that isn’t creepy and disturbing and unnerving.

Instead, Bashir is mostly a vehicle for the guest character of the week, who lends the episode her name and serves as the focal point of some incredibly condescending and patronising writing which doesn’t make the optimistic future of Star Trek look particularly bright.

Floating in a most peculiar way...

Floating in a most peculiar way…

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Apparently You Don’t Have to See Inception to Know it’s Good…

Sorry, I couldn’t resist posting on this. Apparently the reviews for Inception are good… even from those who haven’t seen it. ExBerliner, a German magazine, published a review of the film before its first ever press screening (giving it three out of four). When confronted, the author confessed it was a fake, and acted as if there was nothing wrong:

I went into the theatre and sat down. A moment later, Ms. Troester came in and, as fate would have it, took a seat directly in front of me. I leaned forward and asked if she was from ExBerliner. She said that she was. Our conversation thereafter went like this:

“I’m just wondering, how did you get to see ‘Inception’? Friends of mine in L.A. only got to see that the other day. And I didn’t think there were any long-lead previews.”

For just a moment, it seemed to me, she looked slightly surprised. Then her composure recovered. She smiled. She seemed very agreeable. “We didn’t,” she replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“We didn’t see the movie. With our deadline…there was no time.”

“So why did you run a review on it?”

“We didn’t. We just did a piece.”

“But you gave it three stars.”

“Well, hearts,” she demurred. “Three hearts out of four.”

“Hearts or stars, lady – you reviewed the film.”

She shrugged. Her expression remained blandly serene; I might have been asking to borrow a cigarette.

I tried again: “What I don’t get is, if you hadn’t seen it, and you had no time to see it before you went to print, why do a review at all? You could have just previewed it…‘Oh, this looks pretty cool, it’s by the guy who did “The Dark Knight”…’”

Troester: “But that’s what we did.”

“No, you didn’t. You offered an opinion on the worth of the movie. You said, ‘here, Nolan’s not as original as he can be.’ You gave it stars, or hearts, or whatever. I’m sorry, but that’s a review.”

“If you’re unhappy, you should talk to the editor,” she said.

“But you’re the film editor. It’s your decision, surely?”

She hesitated. “I’m not sure why this matters to you.”

“If you hadn’t said that line about originality – if you hadn’t offered an opinion on the actual worth of the film – I mightn’t have so much trouble with this. But there’s no way you could have known whether Nolan was ‘as original as he can be’ this time around, or not. Or if it was a three-star movie and not a four-star one. Because you hadn’t seen it.”

It’s a great piece. I’ll spare you a rant about responsible journalism and all that sort of nonsense (if you want that, you can read my opinion of Variety’s decision to sell advertising space in its review section), but it’s just a crazy story about how fast and loose some publications can be. I won’t be seeing Inception until next Friday, and I won’t be writing a review before that.

Stay tuned for my upcoming review of Peter Jackson's version of The Hobbit...