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Star Trek: Voyager – The Thaw (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.

The Thaw is a visually striking piece of Star Trek.

The Thaw is among the most delightfully surreal and abstract episodes of Star Trek to be broadcast after October 1975. One of the more interesting aspects of Star Trek: Voyager is how consciously the show tries to return to the storytelling aesthetic of the original Star Trek show, at least in its early years. While the design aesthetics and characters might have been largely ported over from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the first few seasons of Voyager frequently feel like a conscious attempt to update sixties Star Trek tropes for the nineties.

In darkness dwells...

In darkness dwells…

This is obvious in a number of ways. Caretaker consciously tried to evoke the old “space western” aesthetic, to the point of featuring a Native American first officer and introducing the Kazon as horribly racist “primitive” stereotypes. Time and Again relished primary colour costuming for their suspiciously human-like aliens. These themes became more prominent in the second season, with the b-movie aesthetic of Threshold, the space horror of Persistence of Vision and Meld, and the reverse aging allegory of Innocence.

While Tuvix essentially offers a reverse twist on The Enemy Within, it is The Thaw that feels most obviously like a sixties episode trapped in ember. The allegorical storytelling, the abstract set design, the creepy campy tone. Voyager might be half-way across the galaxy, but it is never too far from the familiar.

"We never bother to scream... ... when your mask came off."

“We never bother to scream…
… when your mask came off.”

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The Lone Gunmen – All About Yves (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.

The broad consensus would seem to suggest that All About Yves is the best episode of The Lone Gunmen.

While this is perhaps unfair to Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros, it is certainly a defensible position. All About Yves is one of the tightest shows of the season, and marks the first time since The Pilot that a plot has managed to actually build momentum and tension across its run-time. As effective as the climaxes of Madam, I’m Adam and Tango de los Pistoleros might have been, the first season of The Lone Gunmen doesn’t really offer much in the way of dramatic stakes.

"This looks familiar..."

“This looks familiar…”

In a way, that is to be expected. The Lone Gunmen is, first and foremost, a comedy. There are points in the first season where it feels like The Lone Gunmen exists primarily as a silo to store all the displaced comedy that the production team stripped out of the sombre eighth season of The X-Files. (Cynics might suggest that there wasn’t quite thirteen episodes’ worth of comedy to be re-homed.) It is hard to feel too stressed when Langly is threatened in Bond, Jimmy Bond or when a poacher points a gun at Byers in Diagnosis: Jimmy.

That is the beauty of All About Yves, managing to create a growing sense of tension and unease without sacrificing any of the show’s humour. Indeed, with the addition of guest star Michael McKean to the cast, All About Yves winds up funnier than about half of the preceding season.

The truth is out there...

The truth is out there…

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The X-Files – Dreamland II (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.

Morris Fletcher is (and remains) one of the more interesting aspects of the Dreamland two-parter.

Fletcher would go on to become perhaps the most unlikely recurring character in the history of The X-Files. Michael McKean would reprise the role for a brief cameo in Three of a Kind at the end of the season. As with Kersh, he would disappear from the show’s world for the troubled seventh season, but would return the following year. He made a guest appearance in All About Yves, the finalé of The Lone Gunmen. Fletcher would then follow the Lone Gunmen back to The X-Files, appearing in Jump the Shark during the final season.

And the shippers went wild...

And the shippers went wild…

A large part of what makes Fletcher work is the wonderful guest performance of Michael McKean. McKean is a veteran actor with a long history of great work, dating back to his breakout role as Lenny (and Squiggy) on the sitcom Laverne and Shirley. Along with the move to Los Angeles, the sixth season of The X-Files began to drift away from Chris Carter’s initial reluctance to cast recognisable actors in significant roles. The X-Files: Fight the Future had featured guest appearances from Martin Landau, Blythe Danner, Armin Muller-Stahl and Glenne Headly.

The two-parter built around Michael McKean paves the way for appearances from Ed Asner, Lily Tomlin and Bruce Campbell. These are all superb guest performances, and consciously play into the idea that the sixth season of The X-Files has taken on a more playful or vaudevillian style. It is too much to describe these guest roles as “stunt casting” in the same way that putting Jerry Springer in The Post-Modern Prometheus or Burt Reynolds in Improbable was stunt casting, but the casting decisions are part of a broader change in the show.

Our man Morris...

Our man Morris…

On paper, Morris Fletcher could easily come off as a one-note creep. After all, he is a character who thinks nothing of using his body swap with Fox Mulder to cheat on his wife of twenty years. There is a creepy and pervy banality to his evil, one that mirrors that of Eddie Van Blundht in Small Potatoes. However, while Small Potatoes felt a little too sympathetic to pathetic Eddie Van Blundht, Dreamland strikes a better balance in its portrayal of Morris Fletcher. McKean plays Fletcher as a very human character, but one who is no less creepy for his well-practiced charm.

It goes almost without saying that Michael McKean’s guest performance is a major reason why Dreamland (mostly) works.

Not particularly reflective...

Not particularly reflective…

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Non-Review Review: The Dark Knight Returns, Part I

Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns might just be the most influential Batman comic ever written. It offers a glimpse an alternate future where Batman has retired as Gotham’s protector, and where a new wave of violence brings him back out of that retirement. It is also, and perhaps more notably, a study of the character’s psychology. It’s notable for suggesting that Bruce Wayne’s obsessions might be ultimately self-destructive and that there’s a primal conflict between the “Batman” part of his persona and Bruce Wayne. Like Watchmen, it’s generally recognised as one of the comics that represented a maturity in the medium.

Warner Brothers have produced an animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s classic, and I can’t help but admire it a great deal. While Alan Moore’s Watchmen was a novel that never really lent itself to film, Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns always had a cinematic quality that I think director Jay Oliva captures remarkably well.

A dark and stormy knight…

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