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Star Trek: Voyager – Parturition (Review)

This February and March, 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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

One of the more interesting aspects of the second season of Star Trek: Voyager is its stubborn refusal to give up on elements that simply do not work.

Time and again, and often at the behest of producer Michael Piller, the second season returns to concepts that were problematic and troublesome in the first season. The obvious goal is to fix those problems so that those elements can be successfully reintegrated into the surrounding show. This is why the second season returns to concepts like the Kazon as a threat and Tom Paris as a rebel and Neelix as a character with a useful function on the ship. This is not a bad approach. If the first season of a show is about experimentation, then the second season is about calibration.

Two men and a lizard lady...

Two men and a lizard lady…

It is hard to begrudge Michael Piller this approach. After all, it had worked quite well on Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In particular, it took Deep Space Nine about three years before it figured out how to make characters like Bashir, Dax and Quark capable of carrying their own episodes without making the audience want to bash their heads against a large blunt surface. It is not unreasonable to take the same approach to dealing with the elements of Voyager that are not working.

There is a very significant difference, though. The problematic elements of Voyager have little to do with execution; they are fundamental problems with the concepts. The Kazon do not work as a threat because they are one of worst alien species that Star Trek ever produced, rooted in some rather unpleasant racial stereotypes tied to contemporary Los Angeles gang culture. Tom Paris does not work as a rebel and womaniser because Robert Duncan McNeill works better as a charming goof. Neelix’s romance with Kes is toxic because she is a child and he’s possessive.

Cooking up a storm...

Cooking up a storm…

As such, it feels like the second season of Voyager spends a lot of time fixing problems that are fundamentally unfixable. One of the great aspects of the premise of Voyager is the fact that the show is in a constant state of movement. Unlike the cast of Deep Space Nine who are fixed in a single place, the cast of Voyager are constantly moving forward. It is possible for Voyager to jettison the parts that are simply not working. (Cue lazy joke about the size of Kazon space.)

Parturition is an example of this phenomenon, as Voyager tries to “fix” the toxic relationship between Neelix and Kes, while offering Tom Paris some small semblance of character growth. Unfortunately, it seems very attached to the idea of Neelix and Kes as a romantic couple and Tom Paris as a playful romantic rogue, which means that the best that it can hope to do is to not make the underlying problems any more obvious. While Parturition is nowhere near as bad as Elogium or Twisted, it still feels like a series treading water.

It's time for the Delta Quadrant's favourite fifties sitcom, "Last Tango With Paris."

It’s time for the Delta Quadrant’s favourite fifties sitcom, “Last Tango With Paris.”

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The X-Files – Roadrunners (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.

In case there was any doubt, Roadrunners proves that the eighth season of The X-Files means business.

In some ways, it seems remarkable that Roadrunners did not receive a warning about graphic content. The season would wait until Via Negativa before offering a viewer discretion advisory. Roadrunners is one of the most uncomfortable and unsettling episodes in the show’s nine-season run, one that cements the “back to basics” horror aesthetic of the eighth season as a whole. It was clear from the opening three episodes that the eighth season was intended as a return to the darkness of the first five seasons, but Roadrunners commits to the idea.

Off-road...

Off-road…

Roadrunners is a “back to basics” script in a number of ways, even beyond its very graphic horror stylings. It is a very good “small town” story, returning to the motif that populated many of the show’s early episodes. It is a story about an eccentric and isolate space in America, a place with its own unique character and its own rich history and traditions. It is a place that stands quite apart from the modern world, that might have looked the same at the turn of the twentieth century as it does at the start of the twenty-first.

Roadrunners could be seen as Vince Gilligan’s answer to Home, a similarly brutal (and unsettling) small-town tale.

"On to new business. Today's mission is for all of you to go to the brain slug planet." "What are we going to do there?" "Just walk around not wearing a helmet."

“On to new business. Today’s mission is for all of you to go to the brain slug planet.”
“What are we going to do there?”
“Just walk around not wearing a helmet.”

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Harsh Realm – Inga Fossa (Review)

This November, 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.

Inga Fossa is a noteworthy episode of Harsh Realm for a number of reasons.

In production terms, it closes out the loose three-episode introduction to the series. The Pilot, Leviathan and Inga Fossa were all written by Chris Carter and served as an introduction to the world and rules of Harsh Realm. Perhaps owing to the relative complexity of the show’s premise, Carter takes a bit of time to lay out and establish the core ideas of the show. It isn’t until the end of Inga Fossa that characters like Thomas Hobbes and Sophie have reached the status quo that will carry them through the rest of the first season.

Game on...

Game on…

However, all of this is ultimately irrelevant. Inga Fossa will always be notable for being the final episode of Harsh Realm to air on Fox. Chris Carter’s new show was infamously cancelled after only three episodes were broadcast. The six episodes that had been produced before cancellation were quietly shuffled off Fox’s 1999 schedule; they eventually aired on FX in mid-2000, to little fanfare. The cancellation was a shocking development. The ratings were spectacularly terrible, but Harsh Realm had been intended to establish Carter as the network’s idea-generating machine.

Something was very wrong.

"You can't $@!# in here, this is the war room!"

“You can’t $@!# in here, this is the war room!”

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Non-Review Review: Big Game

Big Game is a rather unlikely combination. Jalmari Helander’s comedy action movie plays as a cocktail of Airforce One and E.T., a coming of age film blended with a old-fashioned action adventure film. It is a combination that works surprisingly well, allowing Big Game to be both playful and charming. Big Game feels like an homage to classic eighties and nineties cinema – the emotional beats are broad, the action is absurd, the irony is layered on pretty heavy. Big Game is always wry and self-aware, but never quite breaks character.

It is a potent mixture, and one that manages to hold itself together remarkably well across the film’s ninety-minute runtime. Big Game never takes itself too seriously, providing a light and exciting action adventure treat.

“I’m king… er… leader of the free world!”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Marauders (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.

Well, it looks like Star Trek: Enterprise used up most (if not all) of its ambition for the second season.

The second season of Enterprise got off to a fairly decent start, Shockwave, Part II notwithstanding. Minefield and Dead Stop weren’t perfect, but they were taking the show in a direction that seemed promising. A Night in Sickbay may have been a pretty serious misfire, but it was still a very ambitious instalment of the series. However, it seemed like that ambition was not to last. The second season of Enterprise becomes fairly conventional from this point out – fairly relaxed and fairly generic.

"We don't like your kind around here..."

“We don’t like your kind around here…”

This is the type of approach that producers will frequently describe as “back to basics.” More cynical commentators might use the phrase “back to the well.” The goal seems to be to offer the audience more of what they’ve had before, to repeat what had worked in earlier episodes in earlier seasons in earlier shows. There’s a creeping sense of familiarity to the whole exercise, as if the writing staff are merely filing the numbers (and character names) off old scripts so that they can be recycled. It is very environmentally friendly.

Marauders starts the trend, offering viewers what amounts to The Magnificent Seven… in space, with Klingons!” It works quite well as a diversion or change of pace. It is significantly less satisfying as a direction for the rest of the season.

"Settlement this!"

“Settlement this!”

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Non-Review Review: Fight Club

Fight Club was released in 1999, and seems to perfectly capture a brief moment in the history of disemfranchised American masculinity.

Situated between the end of the Cold War and the start of the War on Terror, Fight Club is the story of disenfranchised middle-class masculinity, a cultural group gripped by sense of impotence and despair and lost amid an era of financial prosperity and material success. “We’re the middle children of history, man,” Tyler Durden informs his followers. “No purpose or place. We have no Great War… no Great Depression.” It’s a line that gets more bitterly ironic with each re-watch.

A film frequently misunderstood by a significant portion of its fans and its critics, Fight Club is perhaps the quintessential cult film of the nineties. A clever hook that encourages further viewings, a mean subversive streak and a bleak irreverence that is impossible to look away from, Fight Club manages to perfectly encapsulate a moment of shared cultural consciousness and insecurity.

Seeking a friend at the end of the world...

Seeking a friend at the end of the world…

Note: This review contains spoilers for Fight Club. Consider yourself warned.

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A Man’s Mann…

I have to confess I was not overly impressed with Public Enemies. In fairness, it was mostly down to the choices Mann made in filming the work – the high definition cameras and the insistence on shakey hand held movement. You might argue that it was a choice designed to place us in the real world of the Great Depression – to put us on the streets with Dillinger and immerse us in his world rather than the sanitised grandiose version of the 1930’s that typically finds its way on to our screens. This ignores one fundamental fact about Mann’s film making: it is no less grandiose or fantastic than those myths of times past. Mann is a film maker who works best exploring the dynamics of a masculine ideal that never existed. His male characters are drawn in the mold of a classic image that never actually existed.

I'll bet Pacino ordered the Large Ham. Overdone. VERY LOUDLY!

I'll bet Pacino ordered the Large Ham. Overdone. VERY LOUDLY!

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