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Star Trek: Voyager – Dark Frontier, Part II (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager has a morbid fascination with the Borg. Quite literally.

Time and time again, the series returns to the image of the Borg dead and dying. Blood Fever ends with the discovery of a Borg corpse. Unity features the extended autopsy of that corpse. In Scorpion, Part I, Kes is haunted by the image of a grotesque mound of Borg drones, torn apart and reassembled. In Unimatrix Zero, Part I, the Borg Queen tears the heads off her drones and mounts them on spikes. There is a very similar image in Dark Frontier, Part I, where Janeway wanders casually through the wreckage of a Borg ship.

Queen of minds.

Star Trek: The Next Generation worked hard to establish the Borg as a credible threat. If the Borg were associated with death, it was only because they delivered something akin to it. In The Neutral Zone, the Borg scooped an entire outpost off the surface of a planet. In Q Who?, Picard had to literally beg Q to save the Enterprise after the loss of eighteen crewmembers. In The Best of Both Worlds, Part I and The Best of Both Worlds, Part II, the Borg tore through the Federation like it was made of tissue paper. The trauma of that invasion informed Emissary.

In contrast, Voyager seems preoccupied with the destruction and desecration of the Borg Collective. This is an interesting creative choice on a number of levels. Most obviously, it severely undercuts the menace and threat posed by the Borg Collective. Janeway seems to travel through the Delta Quadrant leaving a trail of broken Borg bodies in her wake. It is hard to believe that the Borg are a big deal, when Janeway seems to decorate her ship with their remains. The Kazon, the Vidians and the Hirogen have all taken Voyager at some point. The Borg have never.

Green light for reassimilation.

Perhaps this fascination with Borg corpses and remains simply speaks to their visual aesthetic. With their pale skin and their lack of individual identity, the Borg have always evoked the walking dead; Star Trek: First Contact was essentially a zombie movie in deep space. However, perhaps this desecration of the Borg speaks to something buried deeper within the psyche of Voyager. The Borg are perhaps the most iconic aliens of the Berman era; they represent the moment that The Next Generation came into its own. Perhaps their decay mirrors that of the Berman era itself.

Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II represent something of a final frontier for the Borg Collective. While the Borg had been in decline for some time, Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II marked a point of no return. Regeneration is an underrated return to form for the iconic cyborgs, but it is too little and too late. Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II is effectively a funeral for the most iconic adversaries of the Berman era. However, they would remain shuffling lifeless for another two-and-a-half seasons.

Subject to change.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Prototype (Review)

This September and October, 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.

In what is becoming a recurring theme for the second season of Star Trek: Voyager, Prototype is a mess.

As with a lot of the surrounding episodes, its production was fraught and tense; tensions seemed to be building among the production team as the season progressed. Prototype was an episode that was largely driven by Michael Piller, and one opposed by Jeri Taylor. Kenneth Biller was responsible for tweaking and rewriting Nicholas Corea’s script, but he does not seem particularly fond of the episode. These tensions and disagreements would build to a climax in the second half of the year.

Bride of 4739...

Bride of 3947…

Prototype is not a good episode, by any measure. There are a lot of elements that are interesting on their own terms, but there is also something quite nasty and uncomfortable sitting at the heart of the hour. It is a story about motherhood, but one which suggests that unconventional motherhood must be monstrous and grotesque. Even beyond the awkward subtext of the episode, there are problems. Despite Piller’s attempts to energise storytelling on Voyager, the pacing of Prototype is atrocious.

Prototype is not the biggest misfire of the season. Given the season around it, this should not be misconstrued as an endorsement.

(Warp) core values...

(Warp) core values…

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Millennium – In Arcadio Ego (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

A relatively recent study of teenage pregnancies accounted for forty-five virgin births in the United States, based on data from 1995, 2008 and 2009. Extrapolating from this data, the researchers estimate that almost 1% of births in the United States could be considered virgin births.

Of course, the researchers suggest a notable correlation between these self-described virgin births and other interesting social factors – virgin mothers are statistically quite likely to have low levels of sex education and are quite likely to have taken chastity vows. The myth of a virgin birth is powerful, and it is easy to understand in the context of contemporary attitudes about sex and sexuality that almost one in every hundred pregnant teenagers would rather claim a virgin birth than admit that they had sexual intercourse.

And Frank's left holding the baby...

And Frank’s left holding the baby…

In Arcadia Ego is not a particularly subtle script. Writer Chip Johannessen is quite candid about how he feels about all of this, telling a story about a modern-day immaculate conception featuring two escaped prisoners just looking for a reprieve from all the abuse and violence that they have encountered. In Arcadia Ego is a very socially-conscious piece of work, a rather pointed episode that pokes and prods at some the hypocrisies and inconsistencies in how we talk about sex and women in contemporary society. It is never too hard to tell how Johannessen feels on the matter.

At the same time, In Arcadia Ego is also a thoughtful and moving story about love, hope and faith. After a stretch of episodes that have seen Frank becoming more and more uncertain, In Arcadia Ego casts Frank as a pillar of moral certitude. While it might be a little clumsy in places, In Arcadia Ego is never less than well-intentioned.

Bloody murder...

Bloody murder…

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The X-Files – Christmas Carol (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

Part of the challenge of the fourth and fifth seasons is watching The X-Files adapt the speed of its mythology.

The mythology has a very clear momentum in the first three seasons. For all that Chris Carter and his writers loved teasing out new questions, there was a clear sense of momentum and movement. The show had gone from a series about an isolated alien abduction in The Pilot to a series with a date set for the alien colonisation of Earth in Talitha Cumi. For all that the series was accused of being ambiguous and mysterious, there was a sense that it was at least going somewhere.

And so this is Christmas...

And so this is Christmas…

Things changed during the fourth season, most likely as the prospect of The X-Files: Fight the Future loomed in the future. It was clear that Fox would not allow Carter to set an end date on the television show before transitioning to feature films, and that the series would have to stretch beyond Carter’s original roadmap for it. All of a sudden, the mythology started stalling. The fourth season’s mythology had no clear direction in which to go, as evidenced by the fact that the decision to give Scully cancer in Leonard Betts was an eleventh hour decision with no long-term planning.

The fifth season’s mythology comes with its own particular set of problems. The movie had been written during the fourth season and filmed during the gap between the fourth and fifth seasons. This is quite evident in the way that the movie carries over abandoned elements of the fourth season mythology like the bees, who do not register at all in the fifth season. However, this also meant that the end point of the fifth season was essentially set in stone for the production team. The End would have to lead into Fight the Future, no matter what happened in the intervening nineteen episodes.

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

This means a lot of things for the fifth season. It means that the fifth season is stuck with the “Mulder as a skeptic… sort of” setup until Fight the Future, even if the show generally ignores it as much as it can. It also means that the mythology episodes probably should not contain any earth-shattering revelations or introduce any major character who were not already written into the film. Although Patient X and The Red and the Black effectively throw out these constraints almost completely, Christmas Carol and Emily try to adhere to them.

The result is a mythology episode that adheres rather closely to the successful approach adopted by Tempus Fugit and Max, a story that takes the backdrop of what the show has already revealed about the conspiracy and then uses that as a setting in which it can tell a decidedly more intimate and personal story.

It's a Scully family Christmas...

It’s a Scully family Christmas…

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The X-Files – Leonard Betts (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fourth season of The X-Files and the first season of Millennium.

Leonard Betts is a big one. In fact, it may just be the biggest one.

Leonard Betts attracted the largest audience in the history of The X-Files, with almost thirty million people tuning in to watch the episode. This audience was largely carried over from Superbowl XXXI, but it arrived at a fortuitous moment for the series. The X-Files was exploding into the mainstream. Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz had spent Christmas 1996 in Hawaii plotting The X-Files: Fight the Future, a blockbuster movie based on the series. The week before, Mulder and Scully had paid a visit to Springfield in The Springfield Files.

What a waste...

What a waste…

The show’s moment had arrived. Leonard Betts makes for quite the moment. It might not be the best episode in the history of the show; it might not even be the best episode of the season. However, it ranks with Pusher as one of the great archetypal episodes of The X-Files. The show captures so much of what makes The X-Files great, almost perfectly distilling the appeal of the show into a tight forty-odd minute package. It is a beautifully-crafted piece of television that checks all of the right boxes. This is a pretty fantastic introduction to the show and its world.

Leonard Betts is an episode that has been put together with incredible skill, one that demonstrates why The X-Files had such an impact on the popular consciousness.

Comfortable in his skin...

Comfortable in his skin…

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Non-Review Review: Baby Mama

Baby Mama is effectively a “buddy” chick flick. Indeed, considering that the bulk of buddy guy flicks – like Lethal Weapon or The Expendables – are about guys doing stereotypically “macho” stuff (grrr… explosions and guns and fights and stuff!!!), it’s perhaps appropriate that this movie pairs off its two leads doing something stereotypically “feminine” (awww…. babies and maternal instincts and things…). The premise and the message of the movie are difficult to get a hold of (it by turns mocks and reinforces a conventional liberal perspective, particularly in its portrayal of class conflicts), but works at its best when it lets its two tremendously talented leads time and room to work – there’s a reason that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler are competing against each other for that Emmy this year. Despite its fairly heavy subject matter, the movie arguably finds its feet as a conventional “odd couple” comedy – which is a shame, as that’s only one of many things it’s juggling.

Guess which one's white trash...

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Uma Thurman’s Motherhood Makes £88 In It’s Opening Weekend…

It’s karma for Batman & Robin. It has to be.

Even the baby clearly wasn't on board for this marketing push...

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