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Non-Review Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

The Girl in the Spider’s Web is essentially a high concept shorn of any sense of authorship.

Lisbeth Salander is one of the very few breakout fictional characters of the twenty-first century, a concept that immediately latched on to the public imagination following the publication of Stieg Larsson’s Män som hatar kvinnor in 2005. Salander was a character who seemed to speak to the turbulent new century, a digitally native avenging angel who unleashed her wrath against a violent and misogynist establishment. Salander seemed to speak immediately and viscerally to her moment.

Phoning it in.

A Swedish language film was released four years later, featuring a career-defining performance from Noomi Rapace, which seemed to be enough to singlehandedly assure the young actor an English-language career. Hollywood quickly noticed and immediately commissioned a remake that would be directed by David Fincher, and which would go on to be nominated for five awards. Rooney Mara would effectively launch her career with a Best Actress nomination for her performance of Salander.

All of these are incredible accomplishments for a character and concept that in someways seemed clichéd and nineties. Män som hatar kvinnor was the kind of serial killer narrative that has been ubiquitous in the nineties, but largely supplanted by terrorist stories in the new millennium. As an archetype, Salander was very much of a piece with cyberpunk hackers with which Hollywood had clumsily flirted in movies like Hackers or The Matrix or Johnny Mnemonic.

Snow escape.

Salander was elevated by two things. The first was a prescient understanding of the appeal of a feminine avenging angel dismantling systems of misogynist oppression. If anything, Salander seemed ahead of her time, and should be perfectly pitched for the #metoo moment. However, the other important aspect of Salander was a strong sense of authorship and craft. Noomi Rapace embodied the character in the Swedish-language original, and David Fincher helped to elevate pulpy material to top-tier filmmaking in the American reimagining.

All of this makes The Girl in the Spider’s Web an interesting , if deeply unsatisfying case study of what happens when anything resembling a distinct creative voice is ripped away from Salander and she is stuck in a much more bland and conventional film. The results are deeply frustrating, but affirm the level of talent involved in the character’s earlier adventures on page and screen.

Everything burns.

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Millennium – Season 1 (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Millennium is a strange television show.

It is quite clear that Chris Carter and Fox both had a very different understanding about how best to follow on from the success of The X-Files. Fox clearly wanted another popular hit, a television show that it could plug comfortably into its 9pm Friday slot and grow into a multimedia franchise. The network spent a phenomenal amount of money promoting Millennium, with advertising and screenings and other publicity attempts. This approach paid off; The Pilot broke all sorts of records for Fox.

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However, Millennium could not sustain those viewing figures. Over the first season, it haemorrhaged viewers. Chris Carter was not trying to present an accessible and popular pop hit; instead, Carter was taking advantage of the success of The X-Files to construct something decidedly more esoteric. Millennium is a tough show to watch. It is grim, unrelenting and oppressive. It is a show about darkness in the world that tends to roll up its sleeves and jump right in. Millennium has a clear idea of what it wants to be, but what it wants to be is alienating and uncomfortable.

On just about any level, the first season of Millennium is more accomplished than the first season of The X-Files. The production is more confident, the ideas are much bolder, the themes are much clearer. In fact, the first season of Millennium even holds up well when stacked against the fourth season of The X-Files on an episode-by-episode basis. But that’s not the problem. By definition, “Lance Henriksen fights serial killers and the concept of evil in America” will never be as popular as “David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson fight aliens and monsters and weird stuff!”

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The first season of Millennium is a show that offers a distinctive and uncompromising auteur vision which cares little for what the audience might want or expect. For better or worse, that approach would prevent Millennium from ever approaching the critical or popular support that The X-Files had already begun to accrue at the end of its own first season. The result is a television show that was never going to rival The X-Files as a pop culture phenomenon , but which serves as a bold philosophical statement from its creator.

“This is who we are,” the opening credits state, unapologetically. They seem to be speaking for the show as much for society.

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Millennium – Covenant (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Apparently, the original cut of Covenant ran over an hour and twenty minutes. This is not unusual in network television. Glen Morgan and James Wong faced similar problems when producing The Field Where I Died. However, while cutting The Field Where I Died down to forty-five minutes left something of a jumble, Covenant feels much stronger for the rather ruthless editing done to fit the episode into the broadcast slot. In many ways, Covenant feels quite minimalist – an episode that says the bare minimum, but conveys everything that needs to be conveyed.

Covenant is an episode that could easily seem exploitative. After all, there are points where Millennium feels like it is wallowing in human anguish and suffering. A story concerning the brutal murder of a nuclear family (including three children and a pregnant wife) is something that needs to be approached with care and delicacy. The original script for Covenant is perhaps overwritten, trying to draw too many parallels to Frank’s own family; these associations are best left unsaid.

Bloody handiwork...

Bloody handiwork…

In many ways, Millennium could be described as a “horror” show, and Covenant hones on some of the same fears that the first season has targeted repeatedly. Millennium is a show that is keen to assure viewers that their family members are not safe in their own homes and communities. However, there is a deftness and a tactfulness on display here that elevates Covenant above many of the similar stories in this début season. Covenant is all the more unsettling for its restraint and its control.

Covenant continues a strong late-season streak for Millennium, demonstrating the versatility and the nuance possible within the framework that the show has established. Covenant is a triumph for all involved.

Solid as a rock...

Solid as a rock…

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