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Star Trek: Voyager – Distant Origin (Review)

Like Remember before it, Distant Origin is a really great example of how Star Trek: Voyager‘s efforts to build a “generic Star Trek series can produce memorable and satisfying episodes of television.

There is very little about Distant Origin that demands to be set in the Delta Quadrant. In fact, Distant Origin arguably makes less sense as an episode set in the Delta Quadrant than it would as an episode set in the Alpha or Beta Quadrants. Episodes like The 37’s and Distant Origin (and the lies at the heart of Favourite Son) seem to suggest a lot of traffic between Earth and the Delta Quadrant beyond the Caretaker. It seems strange the Voth would migrate so far in search of a place to call home.

Skullduggery.

Skullduggery.

However, for all that Distant Origin feels like a strange fit for the series’ Delta Quadrant setting, it feels very much like quintessential Star Trek. Like Remember earlier in the season, Distant Origin is very much an old-fashioned Star Trek allegory that uses characters in cheesy make-up to comment upon contemporary issues. In Remember, it was the reality of holocaust denial. In Distant Origin, it is the age-old conflict of science-against-political-expedience. There is an endearing timelessness to the metaphor at the centre of the story.

With its dinosaur characters, its fixation upon evolution, and its doctrine of “origin”, Distant Origin seems very specifically tailored to the heated debates around science and creationism in American culture. However, the allegory is powerful enough that it maintains a potency even beyond that. Distant Origin has aged remarkably well, working effectively as a metaphor for climate change denial or even for historical revisionism in favour of the national myth. Distant Origin is both a season and a series highlight.

The bones of a theory.

The bare bones of a theory.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Threshold (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.

Threshold is hated by fandom.

Veteran reviewer Jamahl Epsicokhan described it as “one of the all-time worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed.” He is far from the only voice raised in protest. Winston O’Boogie remarked that, watching the episode, “you can’t help but think that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with the world that allowed this to happen.” Assessing writer Brannon Braga’s contributions to the larger franchise, Jim Wright reflected, “Whatever else he may accomplish, he’s as forever shackled to Threshold as George Lucas to Jar-Jar.”

It's not even the worst episode of the season...

It’s not even the worst episode of the season…

Threshold is terrible. There is no way around that. It is a very stupid episode that is never entirely sure what it is trying to say from one moment to the next. More than that, positioning it as an important Tom Paris arc in the middle of the second season serves to sabotage the already confused character arc running between Alliances and Investigations. There is absolutely no context in which Threshold could be described as a “good” (or even “competent”) hour of television.

At the same time, it is not one of the worst episodes of the franchise ever produced; it is not even one of the worst episodes of the series. Surrounded by episodes like Tattoo or Alliances, the episode cannot even make a particularly confident claim to being the worst instalment of the season. None of this should be confused as an endorsement of Threshold. It is condemnation of everything that exists around Threshold.

The great mutato!

The great mutato!

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Extinction (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 August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

In many respects, The Xindi and Anomaly opened the third season as if it were the first season of a new show. In particular, Anomaly built consciously and cleverly off of Fight or Flight and Strange New World in providing a solid foundation for the year ahead. The comparison works quite well. By that logic, Extinction and Rajiin serve as Unexpected and Terra Nova. They are two of the weakest episodes of the season, harmed by their close proximity to the start of the year. Anybody wanting to reach Twilight or Damage has to get through Extinction and Rajiin.

In many respects, this early lag in the third season demonstrates just how inexperienced the creative team were at long-form serialised storytelling. The only arc comparable to the Xindi arc in the entire Star Trek franchise is the Dominion War arc on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There, the writers were clever enough to launch the new status quo with an unheralded six-episode interconnected story. The Dominion War had its share of duds, but the opening salvo was magnificently confident.

Archer's not feeling himself lately...

Archer’s not feeling himself lately…

In contrast, the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise suffers out of the gate. The Xindi and Anomaly do good work setting up plot points and character beats that will be of use later in the season, but there is no real sense that the writing staff has any idea what that use might be at this point of the season. Two episodes into the third season, the show is already back to fairly formulaic adventures that stand quite cleanly alone. It is not too difficult to imagine Extinction or Rajiin as episodes in any other season – albeit with some slight tinkering.

However, this is only part of the problem. Long-form storytelling need not become a burden. There is a great deal of value to be had in drifting away from a serialised story arc to tell a quality standalone tale. Unfortunately, Extinction is not a quality standalone tale. In fact, it is one of the worst episodes of Enterprise ever produced. Airing it as the third episode of a bold new season feels like a poor choice.

"C'mon, wouldn't you like to go back to being a torturing and almost genocidal human?"

“C’mon, wouldn’t you like to go back to being a torturing and almost genocidal human?”

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Millennium – Darwin’s Eye (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.

There is a reckless abandon to the the late third season of Millennium that is oddly endearing.

The first half of the year seemed almost cautious and conservative, as if trying to smooth the rough edges off the show in the hopes of turning it into a more generic piece of television. That approach failed spectacularly, and hobbled the rest of the season. Towards the end of the third season, Millennium allowed itself to become a bit bolder and more abstract, proudly flying its freak flag high. The show found an energy and verve, throwing crazy concepts into scripts with reckless abandon and little regard for how they fit together.

Shady theories...

Shady theories…

It doesn’t entirely work. If anything, it underscores just how skilfully the second season had integrated these crazy ideas with a clear creative direction and a solid thematic foundation. The second season know roughly where it wanted to go, and so embarked on an epic journey towards that point. While the third season has its own thematic underpinnings, these feel more like recurring visual motifs and ideas than a clear purpose. As a result, the weirdness can seem detached and purposeless, abstract and surreal.

However, even when the late third season episodes don’t quite work, they remain interesting. There is a breathless energy to these stories that was sadly missing in the first stretch of the year. Darwin’s Eye is a prime example. It is not an episode that could be described as a success by any measure, but it is still ambitious and dynamic in a way that mitigates its failings. Somewhat.

That's one way to get a head in love...

That’s one way to get a head in love…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Transfigurations (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

In way, what is so interesting about Transfigurations is how incredibly generic the story is. It’s a cookie-cutter Star Trek story, a collection of the narrative elements one associates with the franchise – mysterious aliens, energy beings, metaphors about tolerance and fear of the unknown – all loosely sorted into something resembling a linear story.

There’s none of the cheeky subversive charm from early in the third season. This isn’t a deconstruction of “energy being” stories in the way that The Bonding was a deconstruction of “red shirt” deaths. This is just a straight-up story about an alien species learning an important lesson about tolerance, dressed up in a science-fiction mystery, with a romantic subplot thrown in for Beverly because the show hasn’t really done much with Gates McFadden since she returned.

The result is as bland as you might expect, with a sense that everybody involved was just exhausted by the production difficulties that had haunted the third season, and desperately trying to make it to the hiatus. Transfigurations is nowhere near as bad as The Price or Ménage à Troi. It’s just forgettable and average.

Mellow yellow...

Mellow yellow…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Evolution (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Evolution kicks off the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and marks the point at which the spin-0ff really comes into its own. It’s remarkable how consistent in quality the third season is, despite the trouble brewing behind the scenes. It’s also remarkable how quickly the show finds its footing after two years of stumbling clumsily in the right direction. Within the first five episodes of the third season, The Next Generation has clearly found its voice.

However, a change is obvious even from Evolution. Michael Piller would take over the reigns four episodes into the season, but he also co-wrote the script to the season premiere. While Piller polished quite a few of the scripts passing through The Next Generation‘s third season, it is interesting that his credited work book-ends the season, setting the tone and leaving a clear impression.

While Evolution is not the strongest episode of the season to come, it does have a much stronger sense of self and purpose than anything that has really come before. It isn’t a bold or ground-breaking script by any measure; it’s actually a relatively simple story. It just tells that story with a wonderful resonance, clarity and efficiency, commodities that have been sorely lacking from The Next Generation to date.

Hold on, it's time for a change...

Hold on, it’s time for a change…

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Non-Review Review: The Happening

Something’s happening… And it’s happening all over the East Coast… And it’s just happening to people without a reason… And… oh, that’s what’s happening? What the hell was M. Night Shyamalan smoking? Probably some killer grass.

It's a car crash of a movie...

Note: This review contains spoilers. But I’ll flag them beforehand. Still – you have been warned. Oh, and – if you’re looking for a recommendation – the only appeal of the film is in the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. It’s the movie that Lesbian Vampire Killers wishes it were.

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