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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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Star Trek: Voyager – Retrospect (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager is a very nineties show. Sometimes that is endearing. Sometimes it is not.

Retrospect is an episode that made a great deal more sense in the context of the nineties. It was still troublesome and reactionary, structuring its central allegory in a way that was deeply problematic. However, Retrospect made a certain amount of sense when considered in light of the McMartin Preschool scandal and the satanic panic driven by regression hypnosis in the early part of the decade. Retrospect is very clearly an attempt to turn that talking point into a twenty-fourth century allegory about witch hunts and persecution.

Assimilate this…

However, there are a number of poor choices made over the course of the episode. The most obvious is build the episode around the character of Seven of Nine. There are any number of reasons why this would be written as a Seven of Nine episode, given that she is the breakout character of the fourth season. However, episodes like The Gift and The Raven have made a conscious effort to portray Seven of Nine as an abuse surviving living with genuine trauma. To put her at the centre of an episode about false allegations of abuse feels ill-judged.

Similarly, the emphasis on the subject of these accusations and his ruined life feels more than a little tone-deaf, even in the context the nineties satanic panic. Retrospect is not an episode about Seven of Nine processing abuse or even coping with distorted memories. It is ultimately the story about how the falsified accusations of abuse (from a character who is a verified abuse victim) can serve to destroy the lives of innocent men. Indeed, the emphasis on the EMH as a proxy for Seven of Nine downplays her own agency in this plot.

Memory Beta.

These aspects are troubling even in the context of an episode about the dangers of using hypnotherapy as the basis of these charges. However, the scandal has slipped from public consciousness in the years since Retrospect was initially broadcast. When the audience hears about women false accusations against men, it evokes the long-standing myth that men are frequent victims of falsified reports about sexual assault that ruin lives. This was creepy and uncomfortable subtext was obvious at time of broadcast, but has only become more pronounced in the years since.

Retrospect would have been a very clumsy and ill-judged allegory in the context of the mid-to-late-nineties. Decades removed from that original context, it seems almost reprehensible.

Blinding flash of the obvious.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Darkness and the Light (Review)

The Darkness and the Light is the first television credit for writer Bryan Fuller.

There is no way around that. It puts a lot of emphasis on this fifth season episode, drawing a lot attention to the story. Fuller didn’t even write the script, instead pitching a story that would be developed by Ronald D. Moore. However, later in the fifth season, Fuller would pitch the story for Empok Nor. After that, he would be recruited on to the writing staff on Star Trek: Voyager. Then Fuller would begin developing his own shows. Dead Like Me. Wonderfalls. Pushing Daisies. Hannibal. American Gods. Star Trek: Discovery.

Face-off.

Face-off.

That naturally casts a shadow over his first television pitch, the premise sold to the writing staff of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Even watching Fuller’s idea filtered through the lens of Ronald D. Moore, there is a strong urge to read too much into this forty-five-minute piece of television. How much of it represents Bryan Fuller’s vision of Star Trek? How have its themes and ideas resonated across the rest of the writer’s work? What insight might it offer into the producer’s vision for the future of the franchise?

A lesser episode would crumple under that weight. It helps that The Darkness and the Light is an ambitious and exciting piece of television, a triumph of concept and execution that stands as one of the most distinctive and memorable episodes in the fifty-year history of the franchise.

A time to heal.

A time to heal.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Remember (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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 for the latest review.

Much like The Chute before it, Remember is very much an attempt to do classic archetypal Star Trek.

Remember is an allegorical piece of social commentary that is as firmly rooted in the nineties as the prison politics that underpinned The Chute. As the name implies, Remember is a story fascinated with the idea of memory and legacy. In particular, it reflects the idea of cultural memory as construct that is shared from person to person and passed down from generation to generation. Touching on themes of Holocaust denial, Remember is a very potent piece of science-fiction allegory, one that treats cultural memory as something to be cultivated and maintained.

Whose (geno)cide are you on?

Whose (geno)cide are you on?

Remember is a good illustration of what the production team is trying to do as Star Trek: Voyager enters its third season. After a disastrous (and exhausting) sophomore year, it seems like the writing staff have opted against trying to give the show its own unique voice. Instead, the plan seems to be to craft the most archetypal approach to the franchise imaginable. From this point onwards, it becomes increasingly rare for the show to do episodes unique to its setting and premise, instead telling stories that would work with most iterations of the franchise.

This approach has its limitations, of course. By the time that the second season of Star Trek: Enterprise rolls around, even the most die-hard fans have had their fill of broadly-drawn mass-produced factory-setting Star Trek. While this approach could be argued to be a waste of an interesting premise and the betrayal of the show’s original promise, Remember makes a convincing argument that an archetypal Star Trek allegory can still work on its own terms. Remember is a powerful and effective piece of commentary in the classic Star Trek tradition.

Burning guilt...

Burning guilt…

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The X-Files – Sunshine Days (Review)

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

Well, here’s hopin’ the TV stays off and he learns how to love the real world.

– Doggett stops just short of adding “… and that goes for you as well.”

The X-Files was always a more romantic show than it would readily admit.

The popular image of the show might be Mulder and Scully walking through darkness searching for a truth that may never be revealed or a hideous monster preying upon innocent victims. Chris Carter’s most successful work might be rooted in the dual betrayals of Watergate and Vietnam. The characters might stalk car parks late at night or explore the darkest corners of the urban landscape. Mulder and Scully might be abducted by forces beyond their control, and subjected to the cruel whims of uncaring fate. The show’s motto might be “trust no one.”

"Let's call it a day..."

“Let’s call it a day…”

Nevertheless, that cynicism is offset with a deep-seated romance. “Trust no one” is one of the defining mantras of The X-Files, but there are other more optimistic catchphrases; “I want to believe” and “the truth is out there.” Optimism outvotes cynicism by a two-to-one majority. It is not quite a decisive victory, but it is something in this cynical and chaotic world. While Mulder and Scully might never actually find the truth which they so desperately seek, they did find one another. That is more than either could have hoped and than some people can claim.

Sunshine Days is a staggeringly romantic and optimistic piece of television. Indeed, it suggests that the cynicism of The X-Files was really just a practiced veneer. As the title suggests, Sunshine Days allows the central cast to smile more frequently over forty-five minutes than most have in the course of their entire run on the show. As with the rest of the show, Sunshine Days is rooted in the culture of the seventies. However, there is something quite heartwarming in how Vince Gilligan eschews All the President’s Men for The Brady Bunch.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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Non-Review Review: Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is the Star Wars film you’re looking for. Mostly.

In many respects, Star Wars was the film the helped to launch the modern “blockbuster” model of cinema, and a large part of The Force Awakens is the reassurance that not too much has changed in the intervening years. Sure, there are a few script tweaks to reflect more modern tastes for the post-Dark Knight era, but the basic storytelling engine is still the same underneath. If The Force Awakens is a hybrid, it is a hybrid fashioned from the parts of the three original Star Wars films and just a dash of something more twenty-first century.

The Force is strong with this one...

The Force is strong with this one…

After the issues with the prequels, it is reassuring to know that the engine still runs. The franchise’s history as one of the forerunners of blockbuster cinema makes it perfectly suited to JJ Abrams’ nostalgic stylings. Abrams gets a lot of flack for his evocation of seventies and eighties blockbuster cinema, but he does have a fundamental understanding of how (and why) it works. Ever the keen student of Spielberg and vintage Hollywood blockbusters, director JJ Abrams is able to effortlessly blend that classic aesthetic with a contemporary sensibilities.

There are moments when The Force Awakens threatens to suffocate under the weight of what came before, but it largely succeeds on its own terms as a doorway to something new and exciting.

Handover from one generation to the next...

Handover from one generation to the next…

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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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