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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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The X-Files – First Person Shooter (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.

On paper, this should be a slam dunk.

X-Cops was an incredibly risky and experimental episode of The X-Files that really pushed the show in an unexpected direction. The idea of crossing over into Cops was strange and surreal; it seemed like a gimmick that could backfire spectacularly. How could an episode of The X-Files adopt many of the identifiers and signifiers of Cops while still managing to tell its own story? It was a risky proposition, but writer Vince Gilligan and director Michael Watkins managed to pull it off, producing a definite highlight of the seventh season. (If not the final three seasons.)

Game on.

Game on.

First Person Shooter is a similarly ambitious episode, but one that should be a much safer bet. While it pushes the show outside its comfort zone in terms of setting and concept, it does not stray too far from the basic X-Files template. It is written by outsider writers William Gibson and Tom Maddox, but could logically be seen an extension of their superlative script for Kill Switch. In fact, Kill Switch wasn’t even the show’s first “killer artificial intelligence” story; Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa had written Ghost in the Machine as the series’ eighth episode.

On paper, First Person Shooter is ambitious without being entirely unprecedented. Still, the script bends the show too far out of shape. The episode seems to warp and distort the series around it. Despite the fact that First Person Shooter contains far more of the trappings and structures of The X-Files than X-Cops, the episode feels far less comfortable in its own skin. First Person Shooter plays almost like an episode of The X-Files filtered through a lens of unreality; it feels like a textured wireframe model of an X-Files episode, wandering lost in the uncanny valley.

Game over.

Game over.

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The X-Files – 3 (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.

3 is the first absolute misfire from the second season of The X-Files.

It’s easy enough to account for the problems with 3. The production on the episode was a mess. It was the first episode produced without one of the show’s two lead characters. It existed to plug a hole in the schedule caused by factors outside the control of the production staff. Writers Glen Morgan and James Wong were working on both this and One Breath simultaneously. And it’s also a traditional monster story, which is something that The X-Files had struggled with and would struggle with again.

Vamping it up...

Vamping it up…

To be fair, 3 does what it says on the tin. It is the episode between Ascension and One Breath, a forty-five minute breather that fills a broadcast slot and allows the show to continue on while Gillian Anderson takes maternity leave. The fact that there was only one slot to fill without Anderson is a testament to both the production team’s organisational skill and Anderson’s work ethic. Really, all that 3 needs to do is exist.

Even with that in mind, 3 still feels like a disappointment. Given how Anderson’s pregnancy managed to spur the production team to create a compelling long-form story for the show, culminating in stories like Duane Barry and One Breath, it’s disappointing that her absence doesn’t inspire the same creativity. Seeing The X-Files without Scully should be the opportunity for a fascinating adventure or insightful character study; it could play with audience expectations or the show’s rigid format. Instead, the result is just a mess.

"All by myself..."

“All by myself…”

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The Movies Made Me Do It: Media Sensationalism and the Influence of Violence on Behavior…

I had the good fortune to watch the first three films in the Scream series last week, and it was quite an entertaining little experience. Well, mostly – the third one kinda sucks, but let’s not get into that here. I picked up on quite  few things I’d missed the last time I’d seen them, about seven or eight years ago, and one of the most interesting themes played with over the course of the series was the idea that violence in films serves as some sort of influence on kids, desensitising and even encouraging the practice of violence upon others. It’s a fascinating topic, one that I personally feel quite strongly about – but, at the same time, it’s a subject so big and so controversial that it’s probably quite difficult to make a new or witty observation upon. Still, the films inspired me to revisit the premise, and to ponder to myself.

A taste for violence?

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