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Star Trek: Voyager – Virtuoso (Review)

Virtuoso is an interesting companion piece to Blink of an Eye.

Blink of an Eye was in many ways an exploration and reflection of Star Trek as a multimedia franchise, looking at the way in which the franchise has touched and shaped contemporary culture in the thirty-odd years since its inception. As part of this, the episode touched on fandom in a variety of ways, whether the abstract fandom of those individuals inspired by the series to accomplish great things or the more specific fandom including merchandise. Blink of an Eye was very much an episode about loving Star Trek.

Music to our ears.

As a result, Virtuoso feels like a very strange choice to directly follow Blink of an Eye. The two episodes are not connected by plot, outside of the basic idea that the EMH might spend an extended period of time on an alien planet without access to Voyager. After all, Star Trek: Voyager had committed itself to producing standalone episodic storytelling. However, Virtuoso is also something of a metaphor for Star Trek fandom, a look at what it is to love a piece of popular entertainment and to eagerly embrace it.

Unfortunately, the proximity to Blink of an Eye does no favours for Virtuoso, emphasising the script’s weaknesses and tone-deafness. Virtuoso is an episode that feels very pointed and cynical in its portrayal of fandom, very broad and very unpleasant. It is a clumsy and muddled piece of television, on that struggles to hit the right notes.

Small pleasures.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Pathfinder (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has always had an awkward relationship with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was always the rebellious middle-child, prone to make bold and defiant gestures like blowing up a surrogate of the Enterprise in The Jem’Hadar, bringing Jonathan Frakes back to play Riker’s evil transporter duplicate in Defiant, and have former Enterprise crew member Chief Miles Edward O’Brien praise Sisko as the best captain in the fleet in The Adversary. It was a television series that was dedicated to defining its own unique identity, and at least some of that identity was defined in opposition to its direct predecessor.

Taking his Neelix.

In contrast, Voyager always felt a little more desperate, a little too eager to assert its connection to The Next Generation and to insist upon itself as a spiritual successor to that beloved (and incredibly successful) series. Despite the fact that Voyager was set primarily in the Delta Quadrant, the series never missed an opportunity to crossover with The Next Generation. Barclay appeared as a hologram in Projections, Riker was summoned across the universe in Death Wish, LaForge was rendered a captain in the future presented in Timeless.

This is to say nothing of the minor crossovers taken at every available opportunity; the use of Q and the Borg Queen among the relatively small number of recurring guest stars, the original plan to build 11:59 around Guinan, the decision to produce the dire False Profits as a sequel to the dire The Price. Repeatedly over the show’s run, Voyager feels very much like a young child digging through its elder sibling’s wardrobe for something that might possible be claimed as a hand-me-down. It is depressing, particularly considering the raw potential that was baked into the premise of Voyager.

Course correction.

Pathfinder is perhaps the apex of this approach. It is effectively a stealth episode of The Next Generation, packaged and released under the Voyager brand. The primary plot of Pathfinder focuses on two characters from The Next Generation sitting around and talking about how great Voyager is, with one of those characters even escaping into a holographic fantasy of life on board the ship to help him think. In many ways, Pathfinder could be seen to prefigure These Are the Voyages…, the catastrophic finale to Star Trek: Enterprise that borrowed the same template and somehow pushed it even further.

There is a smell of desperation about Pathfinder. Whatever the plot of the episode might suggest, Voyager feels more lost than ever.

The Last Generation.

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Black Mirror – USS Callister (Review)

What is Space Fleet? I’ll tell you what it is. It is a belief system founded on the very best of human nature. It is a goal for us to strive towards for the betterment of the universe, for the betterment of life itself.

And you assholes are f%$king it up!

Black Mirror originated in the United Kingdom, broadcast on Channel 4 and written by Brass Eye and The 11 O’Clock Show writer Charlie Brooker.

The first two seasons of Black Mirror tended to focus on British talent, drawing in a wealth of talent from the British Isles to tell a set of stories about technology run amok: Daniel Kaluuya, Rory Kinnear, Jodie Whittaker, Toby Kebbell, Domhnall Gleason, Lindsay Duncan, Jessica Brown Findlay, Rupert Everett, Hayley Atwell, Rafe Spall and Oona Chaplin. Jon Hamm appeared in White Christmas, but Hamm is arguably an honourary citizen of British television, having appeared in shows like Toast of London and A Young Doctor’s Notebook, and the film Absolutely Fabulous.

In contrast, the third and fourth seasons of Black Mirror moved over to America. This shift was most obvious in the change in locations and talent employed by the series: Bryce Dallas Howard, Jodie Foster, Wyatt Russell, Mackenzie Davis, Rashida Jones, Mike Schur and Cherry Jones. However, it is also quite clear from a shift in emphasis in the stories being told. In particular, the two stories being told that bookend the fourth season of Black Mirror feel uniquely American. Black Museum plays as an allegory for one of America’s foundational sins, its exploitation of its racial minorities.

The feature-length season premiere, USS Callister is transparently a riff on the larger Star Trek franchise and a broader cultural war raging over ownership of established franchises like Ghostbusters or Star Wars. There are undoubtedly ways in which this story could be told with an emphasis on British experience, but USS Callister is very firmly a story about the ownership of one of America’s most beloved and abiding pop cultural mythologies. It is at once a deconstruction of certain strains of fandom and a love letter to the idealism at the heart of such stories.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Emperor’s New Cloak (Review)

The Emperor’s New Cloak is a disaster.

To be fair, it is not a messy disaster. There is nothing particularly novel in how terrible The Emperor’s New Cloak actually is. Most of the awfulness is carried over from Through the Looking Glass and Shattered Mirror. The sharp decline in quality and merit of the mirror universe episodes since the concept’s reintroduction in Crossover has become a gentle slope. The Emperor’s New Cloak is unfunny and broadly homophobic nonsense, clumsily plotted and horribly paced. If it sets a lower bar for these mirror universe episodes, that bar is not appreciably lower.

Not quite having a blast…

The Emperor’s New Cloak is terrible in the same way that Prodigal Daughter and Field of Fire are terrible. It is as though Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has reached a point where its bad episodes are no longer surprising, simply uninspired. No audience member watching The Emperor’s New Cloak will wonder how any of these ideas made it to screen. There is none of the novelty that defined the horrors in episodes like Meridian, Let He Who Is Without Sin… or even Profit and Lace. There is just a creeping sense of fatigue.

In some ways, it makes sense that the most disappointing episodes of the seventh season should be affected by this feeling of exhaustion. The end is nigh, the production team have been working on the series for seven years. Even their bad jokes are no longer shocking, simply tired.

A dark moment for all involved.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Resolutions (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.

So, shipping.

Times change surprisingly quickly. It is fair to say that Star Trek: Voyager emerged in a different world than the original Star Trek. However, it also emerged in a different world than Star Trek: The Next Generation. In a way, the show had acknowledged as much through its experiments with serialisation earlier in the second season. Michael Piller was trying to keep the franchise at the bleeding edge of contemporary television, realising that the medium was not the same as it had been when Jean-Luc Picard emerged at the end of the Reagan era.

Reach out...

Reach out…

Resolutions nods towards a different type of change in the way that television storytelling worked, particularly conversations about television storytelling. Although it could be argued that Star Trek helped to popularise the notion of romantically (or sexually) pairing off television characters through the practice of “slashing” Kirk and Spock, the notion of “shipping” had begun to enter the mainstream during the mid-nineties. The raw sexual chemistry between David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson on The X-Files played no small part.

Resolutions is essentially about “shipping” Janeway and Chakotay.

... and touch somebody.

… and touch somebody.

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The X-Files – Scary Monsters (Review)

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

Scary Monsters is the episode that was in production when The X-Files was cancelled.

Due to the fact that news broke to the public at roughly the same time that it broke to the production team and that the ninth season was fond of shuffling episodes up and down the broadcast order, Scary Monsters aired almost three months after the cancellation was announced to the public. However, the production team were informed while they were working on the episode. Given the low ratings and muted reaction to the ninth season, the cancellation seemed inevitable. Nevertheless, it was quite a blow.

Doggett's burning down the house.

Doggett’s burning down the house.

That is perhaps the most notable fact about Scary Monsters, which is a disappointingly bland episode of television. As with Underneath before it, this is not an embarrassing episode by any measure. It just lacks any real energy or verve. Watching Scary Monsters, there is a sense that the production team were going through the motions, that the reserve of energy that drove the show through its finest seasons had been depleted. The show was running on empty, the production team’s imaginations all but empty.

It feels like the show should have something smart or ironic to say about a kid who can conjure monsters from his own limited imagination. Sadly, it is just a rote monster of the week.

"Now I know how Mulder felt during the season eight credits..."

“Now I know how Mulder felt during the season eight credits…”

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The X-Files – Alone (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.

In a way, the entire final third of the eighth season is an extended finalé for The X-Files – or, at the very least, an extended finalé for a version of The X-Files starring Mulder and Scully.

This seems quite ironic, considering the confusion that existed towards the end of the seventh season, when it seemed like the production team were unsure whether they could (or should) commit to the idea of The X-Files coming to an end. The seventh season was never entirely sure what (if anything) was going to come next, and so it did not have the opportunity to gracefully set up all of its plot points. As a result, the eighth season had to retroactively incorporate elements like Mulder’s brain illness or Scully’s fertility treatment.

Cue cliché marriage jokes.

Cue cliché marriage jokes.

In contrast, the eighth season seemed quite conscious of the end. The entire eighth season is structured as a strange hybrid; it feels like it could serve as both the final season of the show as it aired for seven years, while also serving as a launching pad to something new and exciting. The final eight episodes of the eighth season are largely about tidying away the character arcs and dangling plot thread associated with Mulder and Scully so that their journey might finally end. If the ratings are strong enough, then Doggett might get to launch his own show.

As such, Alone is positioned very much like Je Souhaite had been and like Sunshine Days would be. It is potentially the “one last monster of the week” story marking the end of an era. While Je Souhaite had marked the end of the Mulder and Scully era of the show, Alone seems to mark the end of the transitional period between Mulder and Scully and whatever is supposed to come next. It is a very light episode, no less effective for that. As with a lot of the late eighth season, its biggest problem is the way that the nineth season creative decisions retroactively undercut it.

Leyla... L-E-Y-L-A... Leyla.

Leyla… L-E-Y-L-A… Leyla.

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