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Star Trek: Voyager – Latent Image (Review)

Latent Image is a powerful allegorical piece of Star Trek, a prime example of how Star Trek: Voyager could occasionally spin gold from its shift towards a more “archetypal Star Trek” template. It is a story that could easily have been told with Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example.

At the same time, Latent Image is a story that touches on many of the core themes of Voyager, many of the show’s key recurring fixations and fascinations. It is an episode about the link between memory and identity, about the importance of preserving history rather than burying it; it touches upon both the metaphorical manipulation of history in stories like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness and the literal manipulation of the past in stories like Future’s End, Part IFuture’s End, Part IIYear of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

Picture imperfect.

However, it filters that experience through Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky’s recurring fascination with themes of identity and self-definition. The writers have often used the artificial characters on Voyager to explore the malleability of self, how easily the sense of self might be eroded or decayed; the EMH grappled with this challenge in Projections and Darkling, while Seven wrestled with it in Infinite Regress. The artificial characters on Voyager frequently seemed on a verge of a nervous breakdown.

Latent Image is notable for wedding these two concepts together, for integrating these two concepts and exploring the manipulation of an individual’s history as the root of an identity crisis. What happens to the EMH in Latent Image is at once an extension of the dysfunction suggested in Projections and Darkling as well as a more intimate exploration of the cultural identity crises in episodes like RememberDistant Origin and Living Witness. Latent Image suggests that memory is the thread that ties identity together. Without that continuity of self, everything unravels.

A bone to pick with him.

As such, Latent Image exists in an interesting space. It is a story that works very well as a high-concept character study, focusing on the nature of the EMH has a computer programme. Although episodes like Pen Pals suggest that Starfleet has the power to remove memories from biological life forms, the plot of Latent Image could not work as well with a character like Kim or Paris. At the same time, it is a broader allegory about how important memories and experiences are in terms of defining who a person is, and how dealing with these memories defines a cultural identity.

Latent Image is a powerful and clever piece of television.

The camera never lies.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Killing Game, Part I (Review)

In some ways, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feel like a perfect companion piece to Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II during the third season, these two two-part episodes are very much larger-than-life archetypal Star Trek storytelling. While Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II riffed on Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home, and Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II borrowed liberally from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II draw from a broader pool of franchise iconography for a Star Trek: Voyager spectacular.

A cut above.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II or Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are very much concerned with themes of memory and history. Much like Henry Starling or Annorax, the Hirogen are presented as villains waging a war upon history. They have no history or culture, usurping that of the crew and distorting it to serve their own whims and desires. Of course, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II features no literal time travel, merely holographic.

However, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II is more than just archetypal Voyager. These preoccupations with memory and history are wrapped up in a whole host of broad and iconic Star Trek idea. Although the two-parter features a number of different plot threads, including the recreation of a classic Klingon conflict, the bulk of the action unfolds in a holographic simulation of the Second World War. Once again, the Star Trek franchise returns to that conflict as a formative and defining moment.

For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky.

Indeed, the two-parter even makes a point to weave the franchise’s core humanism into its sprawling epic pseudo-historical conflict. As much as The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are driven by spectacle, writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky are careful to integrate classic Star Trek themes into the episode. While the story begins with the Voyager crew defeated and subjugated by the Hirogen, it ends with a peaceful settlement. Janeway grants the Hirogen a chance to save their people. Coexistence seems possible.

As such, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feels like an intentionally broad smorgasbord of Star Trek themes and iconography. It feels very much like the culmination of the journey that Voyager has been on since the start of the third season, with the production team aspiring to produce a show that might not have its own distinct texture or identity but which retains an archetypal “Star-Trek-ian” quality.

Evil alien space Nazis!

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The X-Files – John Doe (Review)

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

A man without a past on a show without a future.

John Doe opens with John Doggett on the floor of a dusty warehouse, an addict stealing his shoes. Doggett chases the thief out of the warehouse, stunned to realise that he is actually in Mexico. His pursuit of the addict culminates in his arrest by local law enforcement, a couple of cops demanding to see his identification papers. Doggett pats himself down looking for something, but the horror of his situation seems to dawn on him. Asked for his name, all Doggett can offer is an awkward “I don’t know.” His past has been stolen from him.

"Woah, boy. Computer-generated film grain. I'm either in Mexico or a CSI flashback."

“Woah, boy. Computer-generated film grain. I’m either in Mexico or a CSI flashback.”

Four days after the initial broadcast of John Doe, it was announced that there would be no tenth season of The X-Files. Fox and Chris Carter were retiring the show after a phenomenal nine-season run. Of course, production had wrapped on John Doe long before the decision had been made; the crew were working on Scary Monsters when news filtered down about the looming end of the show. However, there was something quite appropriate about the timing of all this. John Doggett lost his past in the same week that The X-Files lost its future.

There is almost a weird poetry in that.

Breaking Decent.

Breaking Decent.

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The X-Files – Redrum (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.

Redrum is perhaps notable as the highest concept episode of the eighth season of The X-Files, a character drama that unfolds backwards.

As a rule, the eight season is more conservative than the seasons around it. In terms of narrative, it may be the most conservative season of The X-Files since the show’s first year. Redrum is perhaps the season’s biggest formal experiment. While very few high-profile prime-time television shows would attempt to tell a story backwards, Redrum feels a lot less bold than something like HumbugJose Chung’s “From Outer Space”Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, The Post-Modern Prometheus, Bad Blood, Triangle, X-Cops or even Improbable.

A tangled web...

A tangled web…

On paper, this should be a highlight of the season. Redrum features a guest performance from Joe Morton, receiving a coveted “special guest star” credit for his work. (Notably, Kim Greist did not earn a similar credit on Invocation.) The high-concept premise of the episode seems like it would make a great pitch for Sweeps, like X-Cops did only a year earlier. In fact, Redrum was produced as the first stand-alone episode of the season, priming it for the slot occupied by Drive and Hungry in earlier seasons.

There is a sense that the production team are wary of Redrum. The episode was pushed back from its production slot relatively deep into the season. It was with second-last episode of the eighth season to air before the Christmas break. The show attracted a relatively small amount of publicity, particularly as compared to the “where’s Mulder?” hype of that greeted the début of the season. There is a sense that Redrum would have garnered more attention only a year or two earlier.

"The teacup that I shattered did come together."

“The teacup that I shattered did come together.”

It is easy to see why the production team were so wary of Redrum. The eighth season is a point of transition for The X-Files. The show is still reeling from the loss of David Duchovny; there is a sense that the show never moves past that. The agenda for the eighth season is to convince viewers that The X-Files is still a viable television show, even without the lead actor who helped to make it famous. While the show is smart enough not to downplay the change, the production team are keen to demonstrate the show can still do what it always did.

As such, the eighth season finds the show adopting a “back to basics” approach, harking back to many of the tropes that made The X-Files such a breakout hit in the first place. There is a lot more horror and mood in the eighth season, a lot more of the traditional scares. That means that Redrum ends up feeling very much like the odd episode out.

It's all gone a bit Martha Wayne...

It’s all gone a bit Martha Wayne…

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The X-Files (Topps) – Afterflight (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.

And so we reach the end of Stefan Petrucha’s work on The X-Files.

It is quite a delayed end. Petrucha had originally written Afterflight three months before Home of the Brave, his last script for the monthly tie-in comic book. It was published fifteen months after the publication of Home of the Brave. That meant a year and a half had passed between Petrucha finished and Topps actually publishing it. The delay was rooted in disagreements with Ten Thirteen over the artwork. Still, Afterflight offers just a hint of closure to the sixteen-issue (and more) run that launched Topps’ licensed X-Files comic book line.

The truth is up there...

The truth is up there…

Afterflight is a mournful little comic, a story that takes a lot of the core themes of Petrucha’s X-Files work and distills them down to a single story. Interviewed about his work, Petrucha contended that his writing for The X-Files primarily meditated on themes of “memory, the self and what is reality.” All of these ideas are brought to the fore in Afterflight, a comic that offers a similar thematic resolution to Home of the Brave, suggesting the faintest hint of hope can be found beyond the world of men.

Afterflight is a beautiful piece of work, and a suitable conclusion to a fantastic run.

Aliens among us...

Aliens among us…

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The X-Files – Demons (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.

The fourth season of The X-Files is an oddity.

That is particularly true when it comes to the show’s mythology. Not only has any sense of narrative progression stalled after the “to be continued…” hook of Talitha Cumi, the fourth season seems to branch the mythology out in multiple directions that never really get anywhere. Tunguska and Terma introduce a Russian conspiracy that quickly becomes a footnote. Tempus Fugit and Max focuses on private military contractors who are never mentioned again. Memento Mori gives Scully cancer halfway through the season, and the rest of the year tries to catch up.

A cigarette-smoking spectre...

A cigarette-smoking spectre…

Demons is an episode that sits rather awkwardly as the penultimate episode of the season. An episode about Mulder undergoing aggressive therapy to recover lost memories seems a little out of place with everything else going on around him. After Memento Mori, you would imagine he would be worried about Scully. After Zero Sum, you imagine he would be wary about putting himself in a vulnerable position. Demons feels very much like it would make a good first season episode, a product of the time when Samantha Mulder was our lead’s primary driving motivation.

Instead, Demons sits awkwardly before the big season finalé with its own clear agenda. Scully’s closing monologue is clearly designed to lead into Gethsemane as almost a four-part season-bridging epic. However, the execution feels a little too haphazard, a little too casual, a little too disorganised. Demons feels less like the lead-in to an earth-shattering story and more like a script designed to plug a gap late in the season.

"Hey, look on the bright side, this time next year, you'll be in a psychiatric institution."

“Hey, look on the bright side, this time next year, you’ll be in a psychiatric institution.”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Second Skin (Review)

The September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

Second Skin continues the identity and reality themes running through the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Search revealed that the Dominion is led by shape-changing aliens who can impersonate anybody, after our heroes spend an episode in a virtual reality. House of Quark stemmed from lies Quark told about himself, only to discover that Klingon culture is not what it claims to be. Equilibrium revealed that Dax held secrets even from herself, having a whole other life. Second Skin confronts Kira with the idea that she may be everything she hates.

The theme will continue in the episodes ahead. The Abandoned is a rather cynical meditation on the nature-against-nurture debate. Civil Defense involves the Deep Space Nine crew discovering that the station itself is not as safe as they like to think. Meridian involves a subplot about Kira’s right to control her own body. Defiant is built around a crisis of identity for a doppelganger. Past Tense features Sisko stepping into the identity of a historical figure. And so it continues. Things are not what they appear to be; the truths we take for granted are not true.

Rewatching this first block of Deep Space Nine‘s third season, it’s amazing how cynical the show could be.

Face of the enemy...

Face of the enemy…

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