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Star Trek: Voyager – Repression (Review)

There is something almost obligatory about Repression, as if the production team have arrived at the point in every season where they are obligated to do a Tuvok-centric story but without any particularly strong ideas for that Tuvok-centric story. It is there because Tim Russ is a credited lead and Tuvok is part of the ensemble, and because there is a twenty-six episode season order to fill. It is not there because any writer thought that there was a story that needed to be told with Tuvok, some part of his psyche that needed to be illuminated.

The seventh season is populated with episodes like this, stories built around particularly characters in the most archetypal of fashions. Star Trek: Voyager is frequently criticised for recycling premises from other Star Trek series, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation, but the show is less often criticised for simply repeating itself. The supporting characters on Voyager don’t really have arcs, often simply having a handful of stories that the series dutifully cycles through on rotation.

“Another fine mess(hall) you’ve gotten us into, Tuvok…”

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a marathon of character-centric episodes would reveal the slow and gradual evolution of the cast. Julian Bashir changes and evolves over his time on the series, from the generic any-character-will-do narratives of The Passenger and Melora into the weirder and more awkward Distant Voices through to his emergence as a distinctive person in Hippocratic Oath, Our Man Bashir and The Quickening. Bashir is not the same character in What You Leave Behind that he was in Emissary, and watching a chain of episodes based around Bashir would explain and explore that growth.

In contrast, a character-centric marathon on Voyager would be a much more frustrating experience, as the characters inevitably go through the same motion and repeat the same plots. This is particularly true in the seventh season episodes, where the obligatory character-focused episodes underscore how little these characters have actually and fundamentally changed since the first season. In Nightingale, Harry Kim is still insecure and lacking in experience. In Lineage and Prophecy, B’Elanna Torres is once again wrestling with her Klingon heritage. In Drive, Tom Paris is once again the careless flyboy who learns about responsibility.

“The more things don’t change…”

At the same time, Tuvok has always represented a very particular challenge for the writers, in that he doesn’t even really have an archetypal story in the same way that Torres or Kim or Paris does. Tuvok doesn’t have a “lesson” that he needs to learn over and over again, or a default factory setting that he can fall back to in order to learn that lesson. At least at the end of Extreme Risk or Juggernaut, Torres had learned that she should not let her more destructive impulses guide her actions, even if she would forget it and learn again. This allows for a character arc that can be repeated and reiterated. In contrast, Tuvok was generally well-adjusted and well-balanced.

As a result, stories featuring Tuvok tend to take something away from him and watch him struggle to return to normality. As a Vulcan, Tuvok is often stripped of his Vulcan reserve and forced to recover it. The results can be interesting and compelling, with Meld and Gravity ranking among the best episodes that Voyager ever produced. However, these episodes can also feel very trite and formulaic, often reducing Tuvok to a passenger in stories nominally focused on him: he drives a lot of the plot in Random Thoughts, but Torres in the focal character; Riddles is about something that happens to Tuvok, but focuses on Neelix.

Looking at things from a new perspective.

Repression is notably the show’s last Tuvok-centric story. It is also perhaps the most archetypal. As with episodes like Nightingale or Lineage, it is a collection of familiar tropes for a supporting cast member trotted out one last time before the show crosses the finish line. Repression is an episode that has clearly been assembled from a variety of earlier episodes focused on Tuvok, right down to plot points and individual scenes or costume choices; it is Random Thoughts meets Meld, with an extended final-act homage to Worst Case Scenario. All of which reduces Tuvok to a passenger in his own story.

This is a shame, as Repression works about as well as any episode built around its core premise has any right to it. Like Drive before it, there’s a certain pulpy thrill to its core premise that fits comfortably within the heightened retro sci-fi surroundings of Voyager. The story of a detective who is investigating himself, spreading subversive ideas through telepathic assault, Repression is a patently absurd bit of television which feels very much of a piece with earlier stories like Cathexis or Macrocosm or Darkling or In the Flesh. It works much better as a trashy late-night B-movie than as a character-centric narrative.

There’ll be Meld to pay for this.

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #12!

The twelfth edition of the new and revived Scannain podcast discusses the week that has been in Irish and international film.

This week, I’m joining Jason Coyle, Ronan Doyle and Emma Fagan to discuss everything from zero-budget Irish indie The New Music to the internal logic of It Follows. As usual, we discuss what we’ve watched over the past week or so, jump into the top ten, and talk about the new releases landing in Irish cinemas.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below. You can access the New Music GoFundMe here.

The X-Files – Fight Club (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

Fight Club is an unpleasant episode of The X-Files.

It’s not “unpleasant” in a good way, like (arguably) Signs and Wonders or (definitely) Theef. It is “unpleasant” in a way that feels ill-judged and tone-deaf. Following on the charm and whimsy of Hollywood A.D., the script for Fight Club seems packed with forced charm and staged whimsy. At its most basic level, Fight Club is a comedy episode that simply isn’t funny. More than that, it’s an episode that isn’t particularly funny or clever to begin with, but then spends forty-five minutes insisting upon its own wit.

"Some of us are looking at the stars..."

“Some of us are looking at the stars…”

There is also a sense of unpleasantness about the themes and content of the episode in the context of the late seventh season. After all, it is no secret that the production team were facing considerable internal and external pressure. These pressures included a lawsuit involving the show’s lead actor and the show’s creator (not to mention the show’s network) and the fact that everybody on the production team was waiting for David Duchovny to determine if they would have a job the following season.

With all of this going on in the background, maybe an episode the implicitly features the show’s two lead actors knocking the stuffing out of each other for no good reason is not the best idea in the world.

"Hm..."

“Hm…”

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Millennium – Darwin’s Eye (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

There is a reckless abandon to the the late third season of Millennium that is oddly endearing.

The first half of the year seemed almost cautious and conservative, as if trying to smooth the rough edges off the show in the hopes of turning it into a more generic piece of television. That approach failed spectacularly, and hobbled the rest of the season. Towards the end of the third season, Millennium allowed itself to become a bit bolder and more abstract, proudly flying its freak flag high. The show found an energy and verve, throwing crazy concepts into scripts with reckless abandon and little regard for how they fit together.

Shady theories...

Shady theories…

It doesn’t entirely work. If anything, it underscores just how skilfully the second season had integrated these crazy ideas with a clear creative direction and a solid thematic foundation. The second season know roughly where it wanted to go, and so embarked on an epic journey towards that point. While the third season has its own thematic underpinnings, these feel more like recurring visual motifs and ideas than a clear purpose. As a result, the weirdness can seem detached and purposeless, abstract and surreal.

However, even when the late third season episodes don’t quite work, they remain interesting. There is a breathless energy to these stories that was sadly missing in the first stretch of the year. Darwin’s Eye is a prime example. It is not an episode that could be described as a success by any measure, but it is still ambitious and dynamic in a way that mitigates its failings. Somewhat.

That's one way to get a head in love...

That’s one way to get a head in love…

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Star Trek – I, Mudd (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

I, Mudd is delightfully silly.

This is probably the broadest Star Trek comedy episode ever produced. It is very difficult to imagine any Star Trek ensemble outside the original cast pulling off an episode like this. While The Trouble With Tribbles is easily the show’s most iconic comedy episode (and the franchise’s, to boot), there is something rather plucky and endearing about I, Mudd. One of features of the later Star Trek spin-offs was a tendency to take themselves quite seriously. This isn’t a problem of itself, but it does make it impossible to do a show like I, Mudd.

Mudd in yer eye...

Mudd in yer eye…

As with other second-season episodes, there is a sense that the show is stretching its wings a bit. Catspaw was a clear attempt to do a horror story, and Wolf in the Fold was a slasher or occult film in Star Trek form. Episodes like Amok Time and Journey to Babel are very consciously building out the Star Trek universe. Episodes like I, Mudd and The Trouble With Tribbles demonstrate that Star Trek can do comedy.

To be fair, it is perfectly reasonably to argue that shows like I, Mudd led the show to think that Spock’s Brain was a good idea. Still, I, Mudd is just so much fun – demonstrating the sense of goofy and theatrical fun that ran through so much of classic Star Trek.

"Stella, Stella... You're putting me through hell-a!"

“Stella, Stella… You’re putting me through hell-a!”

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Star Trek – Sarek by A.C. Crispin (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

One of the more interesting things about the expanded Star Trek universe is the diversity. It is possible for supporting characters and guest stars to carry their own narratives and stories within the grand sweeping tapestry of the Star Trek universe. Despite his importance to the mythos, Mark Lenard’s Sarek only made a handful of appearances across the history of the franchise. He only appeared once in the entire classic Star Trek television show, in Journey to Babel.

It is a testament to Mark Lenard’s dramatic abilities and D.C. Fontana’s writing that Sarek would recur across Star Trek: The Animated Series, Star Trek: The Next Generation and even the original Star Trek movies. The character – despite only appearing in a supporting role across four televised episodes and four feature films – remains one of the most intriguing supporting characters across the franchise.

A.C. Crispin’s Sarek offers a fascinating glimpse at one of the show’s most compelling guest stars, even if the novel does suffer a bit trying to “fix” some of the problems that the author seems to see in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

tos-sarek

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The Art of Bat-Deduction…

My copy of Grant Morrison’s Batman & Robin hardcover should be shipping from Amazon today. In recognition of that fact, and in acknowledgement of Grant Morrison’s description of his book as the Adam West television show filtered through the lens of David Lynch, I give you perhaps my favourite moment of 1960s Batman, from Batman: The Movie. Batman and the Boy Wonder have just been attacked by a shark, leading to the infamous “Bat Shark Repellent” scene, and the Caped Crusader (because it’s just… wrong to call Adam West’s version of the character the Dark Knight) must figure out who was behind the plot:

Batman: Pretty fishy what happened to me on that ladder.
Gordon: You mean, where there’s a fish, there could be a Penguin.
Robin: But wait! It happened at sea! See? “C” for Catwoman!
Batman: Yet — that exploding shark was pulling my leg!
Gordon: The Joker!
O’Hara: It all adds up to a sinister riddle… Riddle-er. Riddler?

And the scariest part? He’s 100% right. They don’t call him the world’s greatest detective for nothing.

On the phone? That's justice...