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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Waltz (Review)

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most “morally ambiguous” Star Trek series, with characters engaging in actions that Picard never would have considered on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

In some ways, this observation makes sense. After all, Deep Space Nine was the first Star Trek show to feature an extended interstellar conflict. Its primary cast is comprised of unapologetic terrorists and untrustworthy wheeler-dealers. The Federation were no longer the unambiguous good guys of the larger Star Trek universe, monolithic humanity giving way to factions like the Maquis or Section 31. Deep Space Nine never took Gene Roddenberry’s utopia for granted, daring to ask what it might look like when paradise found itself under threat.

Eat, pray, hate.

Eat, pray, hate.

However, Deep Space Nine also a very strong moral compass. While there are episodes that flirt with the idea of the end justifying the means, like In the Pale Moonlight or Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges, they are very much the exception rather than the rule. Section 31 are unequivocally monsters, and never proven to be a necessary evil. The Federation wins the Dominion War without the help of their attempted genocide in Extreme Measures. Even the Maquis are treated as ineffective in Defiant, and only romanticised through eulogy in Blaze of Glory.

More than that, Deep Space Nine clearly has a very strong social conscience. This is particularly true in episodes written by executive producer and showrunner Ira Steven Behr. Past Tense, Part I and Past Tense, Part II rage against the treatment of the homeless in contemporary society, sending three regular characters back in time to protest a nineties Los Angeles ordinance. Bar Association insists upon the right to collective bargaining. Far Beyond the Stars is a poignant ode to the power of science-fiction as a window to a better future.

Psycho Sisko!

Psycho Sisko!

Even in the context of the show’s more controversial elements, that moral compass shines through. While the Dominion War might lead to murky compromises, the show goes out of its way to cast the Founders as monstrous; the enslavement of the Jem’Hadar as explored in The Abandoned or of the Vorta as touched upon in Treachery, Faith and the Great River, the use of biological weapons in The Quickening, the disregard for soldiers’ lives in Rocks and Shoals. The Dominion is monstrous, as unequivocally evil as Nazi Germany.

As such, Waltz really serves to confirm something that has always been true of the series. Despite the familiar refrain that Deep Space Nine embraces “moral ambiguity”, the truth is that Deep Space Nine has always believed “that there is really such a thing as truly evil.”

Rocky road to recovery.

Rocky road to recovery.

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Night Stalker – Burning Man (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

As with Three, it feels like Burning Man has some clever ideas masked by an ineffectual execution.

With ABC’s increasingly frustrating “no monsters” edict, Night Stalker creeps closer and closer to a more generic procedural. In some respects, episodes like The Five People You Meet in Hell and Burning Man suggest that the show’s aesthetic leans closer to that of Millennium than The X-Files; this a show increasingly preoccupied with notions of human (rather than supernatural) evil. It is worth noting that Millennium struggled in its own first season with how best to tell these kinds of stories.

Waxing lyrical...

Waxing lyrical…

Burning Man pushes the show closer to Millennium than ever; the superimposed words that appear over Kolchak’s opening and closing narration always evoked the opening credits of Millennium, but Burning Man even features a few of the quick flashes that were so exciting and innovative in Millennium‘s portrayal of evil. Burning Man also trades on the same rich hellish imagery that ran through Millennium, from the threat of hellfire to the demonic shape of the eponymous killer’s figurines. Burning Man even focuses on a forensic profiler.

However, the actual plot of Burning Man is fairly generic. The classic “he who hunts monsters…” story has become something of a genre staple, to the point where it is almost expected in stories focusing on forensic profilers. The primary plot of Burning Man evokes both Lazarus and Grotesque, both X-Files episodes that somewhat prefigured Millennium. It is a stock plot, with little to elevate it. The most interesting elements of Burning Man unfold in the background, as the show engages with its newsroom setting for the first time.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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The X-Files – Hellbound (Review)

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

Your hand travelled
the Aztec trail
down my breast.
The sun popped out like the egg
of a platypus
and aspens pattered
their leafy Ur-language.
All this has happened before.

The jellied landscape
was furrowed with happiness.
You worshipped me
like the goddess of warm rain.

But in each corner of our eyes
stood one of Maxwell’s demons
loosening the molecules
of rise and fall
back and forth.

And in and out, round and about,
in and out,
through the cracked lens of the eye
unendingly,
surface behind glass
entropy mounted
in the random and senseless universe.

All this has happened before.
All this will happen again.

– Miroslav Holub, Lovers in August

Uncomfortable in his skin...

Uncomfortable in his skin…

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The X-Files – Dæmonicus (Review)

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

Dæmonicus is the first “monster of the week” episode of the ninth season.

This is important, particularly following on from two particularly limp introductory mythology episodes. After all, The X-Files amounts to more than just its mythology; problems with the mythology are less of a problem when they are surrounded by strong standalone episodes. Tunguska and Terma arrived as messy mythology episodes at the peak of the show’s popularity, but nobody was too bothered because they were surrounded by standalone episodes like Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man or Paper Hearts.

The devil inside...

The devil inside…

So the show can probably withstand the hit of Nothing Important Happened Today I and Nothing Important Happened Today II. After all, the third season opened with The Blessing Way and the fifth season opened with Redux I, with both of those seasons standing among the best seasons that the show ever produced. (That said, it helps that the second episodes of those seasons – Paper Clip and Redux II – were much stronger.) There is still a chance to salvage things here. The ninth season is down, but don’t count it out yet.

Dæmonicus could really turn things around, right?

Well, that's just cheating.

Well, that’s just cheating.

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The X-Files – Empedocles (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.

Empedocles returns to one of the most enduring Ten Thirteen themes: the idea of evil as contagion.

Both The X-Files and Millennium have touched upon this theme. On The X-Files, episodes like Aubrey and Grotesque suggested that evil was something that could be passed from person to person. Despite the fact that Millennium was based around a forensic profiler, Chris Carter described it as a show about “the limits of psychology”; it seemed like evil could often be traced to sinister forces at work in the world. Looking at Ten Thirteen’s output as a whole, it seems that Carter believes wholeheartedly in the idea of evil as an external force.

Man on fire...

Man on fire…

Empedocles offers perhaps the most straightforward example of this recurring theme. Reyes describes the case as “a thread of evil… connecting through time, through men, through opportunity.” It is a narrative thread that connects from the murder of Luke Doggett in New York to a workplace shooting in New Orleans. Evil is at work in the world, in a way that is palpable and discernible. Empedocles is not a subtle episode of television, linking this contagion of evil images of hellfire and burning.

There is undoubtedly something just a little simplistic about all of this. One of the luxuries of conspiracy theory, as The X-Files has repeatedly suggested, is the way that it serves to impose a logical and linear narrative on trauma; to make sense of acts and events that would otherwise suggest a brutally random universe. The mythology running through the first six seasons of the show suggested a conspiracy of powerful men might provide such a nexus of causation, but Empedocles offers something a bit broader.

It burns...

Burn with me.

As with a lot of the eighth season mythology, Empedocles cuts out the middle-man. The eighth season largely eschews the blending of “self” and “other” that run through first seven seasons of the show, largely rejecting the narrative of collaboration and complicity implied by the Syndicate. The eighth season of The X-Files repeatedly suggests that evil is inhuman, presenting its antagonists as distinctly “other” forms that infiltrate and pervert the body in perhaps the purest distillation of the show’s many viral metaphors.

In its own way, Empedocles is just as much a mythology or conspiracy episode as Three Words or Vienen. Like those episodes, Empedocles posits a conspiracy theory based upon the subversion of human identity by something alien and external. Empedocles posits a conspiracy of evil.

Crispy...

Crispy…

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Millennium – Seven and One (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.

Seven and One is the last episode of Millennium to be written by Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz.

That is a pretty big deal. Frank Spotnitz had been a vital part of Ten Thirteen since the second season of The X-Files. He had also been the only X-Files writer apart from Chris Carter, Glen Morgan and James Wong to cross over to work on Millennium. He would become one of Carter’s most trusted associates, also contributing scripts to Harsh Realm and The Lone Gunmen. When The X-Files: Fight the Future took Carter’s attention away from Millennium in its second season, he proposed Spotnitz to run the show in his stead.

Here's Frankie!

Here’s Frankie!

Chris Carter had created Millennium, and it was clearly a show that meant a lot to him. While The X-Files was populist and accessible, Millennium always felt like more of an auteur project. It was solemn, abstract, contemplative. There is a sense that he was quite disappointed when his attention was diverted away from the show in its second year. Carter has talked time and time again about how he created Millennium as an examination of evil in the world. Appropriately enough, Seven and One finds him circling back around to that idea right before the show concludes.

Seven and One might be the most overtly religious script that Carter and Spotnitz have ever written. It seems to foreshadow the closing themes of Carter’s script for The Truth, the final episode of The X-Files. It emphasises just how essential religious themes are to Carter’s work.

Eye spy...

Eye spy…

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Millennium – Season 2 (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

The second season of Millennium is understandably polarising.

It is returned from its summer hiatus as what was, on the surface, a radically different television show. The Millennium Group was no longer simply a forensic consultancy firm, but had transformed into a secret society dating back millennia; it had become, as Frank would concede in The Fourth Horseman, “a cult.” More than that, the show had changed around the Millennium Group. Serial killers had been the show’s bread and butter in its first season, prompting some critics to describe it as a “serial killer of the week” procedural; now they were a rare occurrence.

millennium-thebeginningandtheend2

More than that, Frank Black had also changed. In interviews around the first season, Lance Henriksen had been very proud to play a hero who solved problems with his mind rather than with a gun. In contrast, the second season opened with Frank Black brutally murdering the man who kidnapped his wife. The yellow house had been a symbol of everything pure and good in the world of Frank Black, of the family he worked hard to protect. The second season had exiled Frank Black from this family and had him move deeper and deeper into the Millennium Group itself.

However, there were other changes that were less profound, but just as striking. Frank Black was suddenly a fan of the music of Bobby Darin. He suddenly had a sense of humour that led him to crack more than two jokes in a season. at the same time, he was also more short-tempered and grouchy. The first season had presented Frank Black as a rock in the middle of otherwise chaotic seas; in the second season, it was clear that Frank himself was feeling the strain and the stress. In short, Frank Black felt a lot more human.

millennium-aroomwithnoview9

The entire mood of the show changed around Frank. Millennium was suddenly a lot weirder. Though the first season had largely moved away from the classic “Frank hunts a serial killer” formula by the end of the year, the second season abandoned any sense of formula altogether. Watching the second season of Millennium on a week-to-week basis, it was almost impossible to predict what the next show would be like. Although there was a very strong thematic continuity between episodes, there was less of a rigid structure to their construction.

The second season of Millennium was a radical departure from what had come before. It was also the best season of television ever produced by Ten Thirteen.

millennium-luminary28

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