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New Escapist Column! On “No Time to Die”, and the Strange Insecurity of the Modern James Bond Franchise…

I published a new In the Frame piece at The Escapist this evening. With the international release of No Time to Die, it seemed like a good opportunity to reflect on the larger Daniel Craig era of James Bond.

One of the more consistent recurring themes of these five movies has been the question of Bond’s enduring relevance in a rapidly changing world. Each of the five films tackles – whether directly or indirectly – the idea that James Bond is a character and an idea past his relevence. This is a very strange obsession for the franchise, particularly given the critical and (especially) commercial success of the recent films. Daniel Craig’s iteration of James Bond has outlasted most of his cinematic competitors, so why is the franchise so insecure?

You can read the piece here, or click the picture below.

Star Trek: Enterprise – Cease Fire (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

It is weird to think that Star Trek was dying in early years of the twenty-first century.

After all, the original series had greatly increased its cultural cachet at the height of the Cold War. The adventures of James Tiberius Kirk offered an optimistic alternative to total nuclear annihilation and a doomsday clock that was rapidly approaching midnight. Logic would suggest that utopian fantasy was all the more essential when contrasted against harsh reality. In fact, it seemed like cynicism and pessimism thrived in the (relatively) peaceful and prosperous decade following the collapse of the Cold War. The X-Files and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine were inescapably products of the nineties.

I'm blue dabba dee dabba dii...

I’m blue dabba dee dabba dii…

So one imagines that the dread and fear that took root in the wake of 9/11 might somehow make the optimism and hope of Star Trek all the more essential. After all, pundits and commentators wasted no time in suggesting that irony and cynicism were passé. Stephen Thompson, editor of The Onion, suggested that the age of irony had ended only a week after the attacks.  Graydon Carter, editor of Variety, observed, “I think it’s the end of the age of irony. Things that were considered fringe and frivolous are going to disappear.” In a highly publicised Time article, Roger Rosenblatt rejoiced.

Of course, irony was far from dead, as films like Team America: World Police demonstrated. The Colbert Report became a cultural phenomenon. The Onion is still in business. However, the speed with which these commentators latched on to the idea of the death of irony suggested that the mood had changed perceptibly. Maybe not definitively, maybe not completely, but there was a change in the air. If ever there was a time for the optimism and the utopianism of Star Trek, it would be this particular moment.

"This is the point where everything changed..."

“This is the point where everything changed…”

However, it seemed like 9/11 eroded the franchise’s faith in utopia. Understandably – and perhaps inevitably – Star Trek: Enterprise found itself warped by images and iconography associated with the attacks. The tradition idyllic alien worlds associated with the franchise – visible in early episodes like Strange New World and Civilisation were quickly replaced by landscapes evoking the popular mood – apocalyptic cityscapes of Shadows of P’Jem and Shockwave, Part II, the deserts of Desert Crossing, the militaristic settings of Detained and The Communicator, or even the darkness of Rogue Planet.

It was as if 9/11 had warped the psychological landscape of the Star Trek universe, throwing everything into doubt. Far from responding to that real-world tragedy with optimism and hope, it seemed that Enterprise only lost certainty in itself. Cease Fire is an episode that feels plagued by self-doubt and insecurity, even as it tries to find its way back to the franchise’s trademark idealism. It may not quite find its way back to the path, but it makes a reasonable effort.

It's all in ruins...

It’s all in ruins…

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The X-Files – Kaddish (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.

Kaddish is the last solo script that Howard Gordon wrote for The X-Files.

The writer would remain part of the writing staff until the end of the fourth season, contributing to scripts like Unrequited or Zero Sum. However, Kaddish would be the last script credited to Howard Gordon alone. So Gordon does not quite get the clean farewell that Darin Morgan got with Jose Chung’s “From Outer Space” or that Glen Morgan and Howard Wong received with Never Again. Instead, Howard Gordon remains a pretty significant presence on the show even after writing his final solo script.

The word made flesh...

The word made flesh…

Nevertheless, Kaddish is packed with a lot of the images and themes associated with Gordon’s work. As with Fresh Bones or Teliko, it is a horror story set within a distinct ethnic community. As with Firewalker or Død Kälm or Grotesque, there is an element of body horror at play. As with Lazarus or Born Again, this is essentially a supernatural revenge story. Kaddish offers a distilled collection of the tropes and signifiers that Gordon helped to define for The X-Files, making it an appropriate final script for the writer.

It helps that Kaddish is a surprisingly sweet and thoughtful little horror story.

The outside looking in...

The outside looking in…

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