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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 4 (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.

The fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever produced.

The first three years of Deep Space Nine were relatively rocky, although not quite to the extent that accepted fandom wisdom would contend. Each of the first three seasons had strong episodes, with the second season in particular featuring a strong selection of episodes that clearly cemented the tone and mood of the series. Nevertheless, those three seasons were also remarkably uneven. This is entirely understandable; the production team were consciously pushing the boat out and it is to be expected that it might take a little while to steady the ship.

ds9-shatteredmirror20a

With the start of the fourth season, the ship has been steadied. After three years of experimenting and tinkering, the fourth season is all about application. It is about recognising the most successful aspects of what came before and compensating for what did not work. The four season is about refining and honing the best parts of those first three seasons and building a new show around it, right down to structuring The Way of the Warrior as a second pilot and featuring a new credits sequence.

Although Deep Space Nine would change quite a bit in the final three years of its run, the fourth season marks the point at which the series seems to have a firm sense of itself. Deep Space Nine has emerged from its chrysalis.

ds9-tothedeath2a

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Quickening (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.

Somehow, it happened. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went from a show that could barely produce one good Bashir episode in a season to a series that could crank out three great Bashir episodes within the same production year.

The fourth season of Deep Space Nine is a fantastic season of television, even allowing for the episodes that don’t quite work (Sons of Mogh, Rules of Engagement) and those that fall completely apart (Shattered Mirror, The Muse). There any number of ways of measuring this success: the ease with which Worf has been integrated into the ensemble; the very high average quality of the individual episodes; the skill with which the production team navigated the introduction of the Klingon plot threads at the suggestion of the studio.

Paradise lost.

Paradise lost.

These are all perfect valid barometres of the season’s success. As is the most obvious indicator: the season is fun to watch and largely holds up on rewatch. However, the simple fact that Deep Space Nine could produce three great centring around Julian Bashir over the course of a single season speaks to how far the production team had come. After all, the studio had repeatedly asked the staff to write Bashir out of the show, convinced that fans were not responding to the station’s chief medical officer.

The Quickening is the third and final “good Bashir episode” of the fourth season, and it demonstrates just how important Bashir is to the fabric and framework of Deep Space Nine. Bashir represents Deep Space Nine‘s esoteric utopianism.

Bashir determination...

Bashir determination…

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The Lone Gunmen – Like Water For Octane (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.

Taken together, Like Water for Octane and Three Men and a Smoking Diaper represent perhaps the creative nadir of the first season of The Lone Gunmen.

They are the episodes that not only engage in the excesses of the show’s early first season, but practically revel in them. In particular, Like Water for Octane is an episode that thinks it is hilarious to have a sequence where Langly sticks his hand up the backside of a bull, while the climax revolves around Jimmy strategically tugging the bull’s “one giant udder” at just the right the moment. The problem is not that the gags are juvenile. The problem is that the gags simply aren’t funny. And there are a lot of unfunny gags across these two episodes.

New patriots...

New patriots…

Again, there is a sense that these are ultimately just teething problems, that The Lone Gunman has not quite figured out what it wants to be. The show improves in later episodes, but not necessarily because the gags get funnier. The gags do get funnier, but there is never really a sense that The Lone Gunmen is funny enough to carry forty-five minutes on cheap laughs. Instead, the show seems to release that it needs more than “dick and ass” jokes to sustain itself. Like Water for Octane and Three Men and Smoking Diaper are devoid of heart.

More than that, though, Like Water for Octane feels like a fundamental betrayal of the show’s core principles. It is a story about the Lone Gunmen struggling to expose the truth, only to decide that the people are too stupid to be trusted with the truth and that the trio should appoint themselves custodians of that truth. The episode seems entirely sincere in this belief, which makes it seem like the production team have somehow completely misunderstood their own characters.

Out of the night...

Out of the night…

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The Lone Gunmen – Pilot (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.

It is meant to be a joke.

It is an episode known as The Pilot, because it is a proof of concept for a new series that can be shown to executives in the hopes that they might green-light it and give the production team a series order. That is, after all, what a television pilot is. It is the first episode of a television show to be filmed, usually with considerable space between it and the rest of the first season. There is time for network notes and feedback, to determine what works and what doesn’t. There is space for recasting and reshooting, which becomes more problematic on a weekly schedule.

Rocket man.

Rocket man.

However, the fact that the first episode of The Lone Gunmen is called The Pilot is also a rather wry punchline. It is a self-aware reminder that the show takes itself considerably less seriously than Millennium or Harsh Realm. After all, even if this weren’t the very first episode of a new television show, it might be called The Pilot. Based purely on the plot, the episode might have been called The Pilot. It is an episode about a sinister plot to hijack planes using advanced technology. So calling the episode The Pilot is a cheesy and goofy bit of wordplay.

Of course, there is very little funny about it in hindsight.

Don't leave us hanging...

Don’t leave us hanging…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Council (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.

From a technical standpoint, The Council is the third last episode of the third season. From an arc-based standpoint, the third season Xindi arc is not completely resolved until the events of Home three episodes into the fourth season. However, there is an argument to be made that The Council represents the logical conclusion of the third season arc. Sure, Countdown and Zero Hour provide a suitably bombastic resolution to the year-long story, but The Council is the story that really resolves the central conflict driving the season.

After twenty-one episodes of moral ambiguity and ethical compromise, The Council exists to assure viewers that Star Trek: Enterprise has not forgotten the optimistic humanism that has guided the franchise. The Council confirms what most even-handed fans had probably deduced from The Expanse and what had been rendered explicit in The Shipment. The third season was never about getting away from the core utopian values associated with the Star Trek franchise; instead, it was about an attempt to get back to those hopeful ideals.

"I told you not to interrupt me when I'm working on my tan!"

“I told you not to interrupt me when I’m working on my tan!”

As the name implies, The Council is a rather talky script; it is certainly the most talky script between this point and the end of the third season. The episode’s plot finds Archer making his case to the Xindi Council, appealing for a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis. Archer puts aside his anger and his thirst for retribution, in the hope of finding common ground that might accommodate both sides without resort to warfare or attempted genocide. Naturally, Archer is not entirely successful; the season needs an action climax. However, he is close enough.

Much like The Forgotten, it turns out that The Council is a script about moving beyond grief and hatred towards reconciliation and understanding. It affirms that the third season of Enterprise is (and was always) following a very traditional Star Trek arc.

"Et tu, Dolim?"

“Et tu, Dolim?”

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Non-Review Review: Inherent Vice

In many ways, Inherent Vice resembles its central character – former-hippie-turned-private-investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello.

Inherent Vice is prone to ramble and meander, stumbling across its central conspiracies as much by fate as by actual investigation. The logic is fuzzy, but the genius is clear. Navigating a complex web of seventies paranoia, it often seems as if Inherent Vice is playing a game of free association between its themes, stumbling upon some higher meta-physical plane where all the evils of the world (or, at least, Los Angeles) are connected by threads almost imperceptible.

Bad trip...

Bad trip…

Both Inherent Vice and Doc are hooked on their own particular drugs. Over the course of Inherent Vice, Doc makes it quite clear that heroine is just about the only dope he won’t take into his body. Inherent Vice itself is drawn the delightfully trippy far-out prose of Thomas Pynchon, with Paul Thomas Anderson’s script pausing intermittently to dump large quantities of existential musing on to the market. If Pynchon’s prose didn’t flow eloquently from actresses like Katherine Waterston and Jeannie Berlin, the audience might complain.

Running almost two-and-a-half hours, Inherent Vice is more than a little indulgent. Luckily, it is more than a little brilliant as well.

Lawyer up...

Lawyer up…

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Mark Waid, Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera et al’s Run on Daredevil (Vol. 3) (Review/Retrospective)

This April, to celebrate the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, we are taking a look at some classic and modern comics featuring Spider-Man (and friends). Check back daily for the latest review.

Daredevil had been one of the most consistently reliable books at a major comic book publisher over the last decade or so. Under creative teams from Kevin Smith to David Mack to Brian Michael Bendis to Ed Brubaker, the gritty street level superhero has enduring a whole host of twists and shifts that have made the book a compelling read. Indeed, the only real problem with the run was that Andy Diggle couldn’t quite stick the landing and so we ended up closing out that incredibly run with a bland and generic crossover like Shadowland.

Still, Daredevil remains an exciting book – a comic that affords the writers and artists a bit more freedom than they’d enjoy working on a more high-profile or major character. When Spider-Man’s identity was revealed by J. Michael Straczynski during Civil War, the publisher almost immediately hit a reset button in the form of One More Day to tidy up everything. When Brian Michael Bendis revealed Matthew Murdock’s secret identity to the world, there was no attempt to stuff the genie back in the bottle. That radical shift remained in play for the rest of Ed Brubaker and Andy Diggle’s run, casting a shadow over Mark Waid’s as well.

The big smoke...

The big smoke…

However, reading Andy Diggle’s Daredevil, it’s easy to get a sense that the character was suffocating under the influence of Frank Miller. Frank Miller and Klaus Jansen enjoyed a character-defining run in the mid-eighties. For Miller, it paved the way to The Dark Knight Returns, and it really shook the foundations of the superhero genre. Suddenly superheroes weren’t infallible; suddenly fights could get genuinely dirty; suddenly dressing up in a silly costume to fight crime was treated as something that might be deemed a little eccentric.

This had a dramatic impact across the superhero genre. At the same time, however, it really defined the character of Daredevil. In his year years, Daredevil often seemed like a cheap knock-off of Spider-Man; an imitation of a far more popular hero. With the work of Frank Miller, Matthew Murdock become more conflicted and more complex. He became a hero who could make mistakes, a hero who didn’t have the best judgement, a hero who could fail. This pushed the character of Daredevil more towards gritty urban crime and film noir conventions, and further away from superhero conventions.

Radar love...

Radar love…

Decades after Born Again, writers are still drawing on that iconic take on Matthew Murdock. The Kingpin is still considered one of the – if not the – greatest foe of the Man Without Fear. Kevin Smith killed off Karen Page, the character who betrayed Matthew Murdock in Born Again. Brian Michael Bendis wrote a story featuring the character who planted the bomb in Born Again, two decades after that story was published. Miller cast a long shadow over the character. One of the (many) problems with Andy Diggle’s Daredevil was the way that it demonstrating that riffing on Frank Miller was getting old.

And so, Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil is absolutely fascinating. It’s a clear departure from the grounded urban realism that came to define the character, often feeling like an attempt to reconnect with the character’s Silver Age roots. Brought to life by some of the best artists in the business, the run just pops off the page. At the same time, Waid doesn’t ignore or avoid or overlook what has come before. He just seems to realise that there are other ways of approaching the character.

On top of the world...

On top of the world…

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