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Escapist Column! “It: Chapter 2” and the Dangers of Nostalgia…

Another In the Frame column from Escapist Magazine!

This time, taking a look at the recent release of It: Chapter 2, and what the film has to say about the gulf between memory and history. It: Chapter 2 is a story about coming home, and processing the reality of what happened, so that it can be truly put to rest.

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

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New Podcast! The X-Cast – Season 3, Episode 16 (“Apocrypha”)

I’m back on The X-Cast this week, to cover the second-part of the late third-season mythology two-parter Apocrypha.

Picking up where Piper Maru left off, this conclusion finds Mulder and Scully continuing their separate investigations. Mulder is chasing down the missing tape from Anasazi, The Blessing Way and Paper Clip while Scully is dealing with the fallout from the assassination attempt on Assistant Director Walter Skinner that brings her face-to-face with the man who killed her sister. Justice, legacy and guilt are all major preoccupations, tying into the broader themes of the season as a whole.

Once again, a pleasure to substitute in for Tony Black as host of The X-Cast for an episode, and absolutely thrilled to be joined by the great Christopher Irish from The X-Files Lexicon.

The truth is in here. You can listen to the episode here, or click the link below.

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Night Stalker – The Sea (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

One of the interesting aspects of doing a long-running pop culture project is the subtle shifts that you can see taking place over time.

The realities of media consumption change over extended periods; in response, the methods of media production also change. It is not too hard to imagine a world where Night Stalker would have been cancelled by ABC six episodes into its run, ending on a cliffhanger with the remaining four episodes buried for all eternity. Television would have moved on to its next reboot, its next new launch, and the cycle would have continued. Night Stalker would have been dead and buried, even more of a genre curiosity than it is now.

Fenced off...

Fenced off…

There was a time when Night Stalker would have been consigned to history. At best, it might have been a footnote in Frank Spotnitz’s filmography, a point of reference in interviews and conversations about how mainstream American television treats science-fiction history. Had Night Stalker appeared (and been so promptly cancelled) even ten years earlier, it would probably be a curiosity on the IMDb pages of its cast and crew. The name would resonate with genre fans, and t would casually be dropped in career overviews. But it would largely be lost.

However, the reality of television had changed by the twenty-first century, the explosion in home media ensuring that even a six-episode failure like Night Stalker could receive a neatly-packaged DVD release and remain easily accessible to the generations that followed. In some respects, this feels like the worst thing that could have happened. The biggest obstacle between Night Stalker and the status of “cult classic” is ease of access to the show itself; the readiness with which the nostalgic refrain of “cancelled before its time” might be rebutted by simply buying the DVD.

A blast from the past...

A blast from the past…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Breach (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.

One of the more interesting aspects of a heightened franchise like Star Trek is the way that invites particular members of staff to define their own voices. On most of the Star Trek shows, it is easy to distinguish the work of particular writers from one another. Ronald D. Moore likes militarism and world-building; Brannon Braga likes time travel and classic science-fiction. There are clear voices that can be distinguished from the choir on each of the shows, for better or for worse.

Although it enjoyed a considerably shorter run than the other Star Trek spin-offs, Star Trek: Enterprise is no exception.  The Breach is a script credited to writers Chris Black and John Shiban. The two had collaborated unofficially on Canamar, a script credited to Shiban alone. The two would work together again on First Flight towards the end of the season. It is certainly a partnership that had considerable potential, if not for Shiban’s departure at the end of the season.

What's up, Doc?

What’s up, Doc?

In many respects, The Breach feels like the product of those two voices. Xenophobia is a major theme of The Breach – as it was in Shiban’s other scripts for the season like Minefield, Dawn or Canamar. Like their last collaboration on Canamar and their future collaboration on First Flight, it seems The Breach presents a more balanced version of Archer than episodes like The Crossing or Horizon. This is a version of Archer who feels compelled to do the right thing, but without the same oppressive self-righteousness that drives his more awkward moments.

However, it seems like Chris Black provides The Breach with its very traditional and old-fashioned Star Trek aesthetic. A veteran of genre television with an understanding of the narrative conventions associated with the franchise, Black understands how Star Trek storytelling is supposed to work. The Breach is perhaps a little too formulaic and traditional in its storytelling, but it does demonstrate that – despite its best efforts – The Crossing had not completely buried a certain optimistic strain of Star Trek ethics.

Into darkness...

Into darkness…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Horizon (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.

Horizon takes us backwards.

Early in the episode, the Enterprise is redirected to investigate a strange interstellar phenomenon. “This system’s almost thirty light years behind us,” Mayweather observes. Archer responds, “Admiral Forrest assures me it’s only a temporary detour.” This is largely what Horizon feels like, a journey back to the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Horizon is a deathly dull episode, but it would be more tolerable had it aired early in the first season. At least it is not as offensive as Unexpected or Terra Nova.

"A Travis episode? I'll be right there!"

“A Travis episode? I’ll be right there!”

There is something particularly regressive about Horizon, as if the episode is a relic of the show that Enterprise used to be. It focuses on human space exploration outside of Starfleet, as promised in episodes like Terra Nova or Fortunate Son. It gives the audience another glimpse into “boomer” life and even opens with Mayweather relaxing in “the sweet spot”, the first time that the audience has seen that location since Broken Bow. Even the plot feels like a retread of first season episodes – a strange hybrid of Fortunate Son and Silent Enemy.

The character beats are no better. Horizon struggles to construct a credible character-driven story for Mayweather. Unable to figure anything out, the show decides to saddle him with the same character arc that Hoshi repeated in episodes like Fight or Flight, Sleeping Dogs or Vox Sola. The problems are compounded by the script’s lack of trust in Anthony Montegomery to carry the himself, leading to an extended (and dull) first act and a padded (and dull) subplot. If Judgment made a sterling defense of Enterprise, Horizon is a damning argument for the prosecution.

Freight stuff...

Freight stuff…

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The X-Files – Aubrey (Review)

This August (and a little of September), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the second season of The X-Files. In November, we’ll be looking at the third season. And maybe more.

Aubrey doesn’t necessarily a make a lot of sense. Even as episodes of The X-Files go, “serial killer genes that skip a generation” feels like a logical leap. The idea that not only memories but personalities can be passed from grandfather to granddaughter is absurd even by the standards of a show that just did “magic mushrooms that cure Alzheimer’s and give people telekinesis and open portals to another world.” Perhaps it’s the fact that Aubrey tries to root its story in genetics that makes it seem so ridiculous.

And yet, once you get past that logical leap, Aubrey is a fascinating little episode. Aubrey works on quite a few levels that are disconnected from the story itself. For one thing, it is a Rob Bowman episode, and he is clearly pushing himself. For another, the guest cast features superb performances from Deborah Strang, Terry O’Quinn and Morgan Woodward. There’s also the fact that Aubrey connects almost perfectly with both the underlying themes of The X-Files as a show and of the second season in particular.

Hey little sister, what have you done?

Hey little sister, what have you done?

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Ultimate Origins (Review/Retrospective)

This May, to celebrate the release of X-Men: Days of Future Past, we’re taking a look at some classic and modern X-Men (and X-Men-related) comics. Check back daily for the latest review.

Ultimatum effectively brought an end to the first stage of life for Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. To be fair, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic Four had both cycled through multiple creative teams by that point, but Ultimatum was the book that effectively drew a line under a certain era of Marvel’s Ultimate Universe. Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate X-Men and Ultimate Fantastic four were all cancelled in the wake of the massive end, marking it as the end of an era.

As such, it made sense to go back to the start of the line – to task writer Brian Michael Bendis to craft an origin for this shared spin-off universe. With Ultimatum killing off so many characters and so radically altering the status quo, it made sense to go back to the beginning and offer a glimpse at the formative moments of this alternate universe. The Ultimate Universe had been built from the ground up, so it made sense that the continuity all fit together.

A Magnetic personality...

A Magnetic personality…

While Ultimate Origins offered a series of insights and revelations that radically altered (or expanded) the back story of almost every corner of the Ultimate publishing line, Brian Michael Bendis’ Ultimate Origins undoubtedly had the most profound implications for the characters of Ultimate X-Men. While the characters from Ultimate Spider-Man or The Ultimates could go back to something approximating business as usual, those characters would never be the same again.

Offering an explanation for the mutant genome that would alter the context of mutants and play into the climax of Ultimatum, Ultimate Origins represents something radical and distinct from mainstream Marvel publishing. In a way, it feels like it is playing into the mission statement of Ultimatum – redefining the Ultimate line so as to distinguish the Ultimate Universe from its mainstream counterpart. This is no long a streamlined and cleaned up alternative; it is something radically different.

Carry on...

Carry on…

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