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Millennium – A Single Blade of Grass (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 Single Blade of Grass is one of those episodes of television that skirts a line. It is very much a companion to “subculture” episodes of The X-Files, shows that would see our white heroes wading into the world of an ethnic minority – be the Haitian refugees in Fresh Bones, Chinatown in Hell Money, African immigrants in Teliko or Mexican-Americans in El Mundo Gira. In the case of A Single Blade of Grass, Frank Black is wandering into the world of Native Americans in New York.

It goes without saying that these sorts of episodes have to be very careful. Both Millennium and The X-Files are very white television shows – they have exclusively white primary casts, and the vast majority of their supporting cast are also white. (Also, most of the writers’ rooms.) As such, telling a story about a subculture can be very tricky – it is easy to seem shallow or condescending, trite or exploitative. It is worth noting that some of the biggest misfires on The X-Files occurred when the production team got this horribly wrong – Excelsis Dei, Teso Dos Bichos, El Mundo Gira, Badlaa.

Burial mask...

Burial mask…

It is very easy to get caught up in mysticising and fetishising the Other, which can become quite problematic when “the Other” corresponds to a real-life minority that have – historically speaking – never been treated particularly well by those in authority. As such, A Single Blade of Grass feels like a very risky and very difficult story, particularly for a show that was already struggling in the ratings and trying to gain some traction with audiences. A Single Blade of Grass has the potential to go spectacularly wrong in places, and it is to the credit of all involved that it (mostly) doesn’t.

Then again, this is a large part of the appeal of the second season of Millennium – what makes even the year’s failures seem compelling in their own eccentric way. There is a sense that the second season of Millennium is completely unfazed by the possibility of failure, and so commits completely to what it wants to do. While A Single Blade of Grass might be a little muddled and unfocused in places, it retains a raw energy that makes for compelling viewing.

Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about the death of worlds...

Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about the death of worlds…

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Star Trek – Wolf in the Fold (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Wolf in the Fold is Robert Bloch’s third and final contribution to Star Trek.

In keeping with What Are Little Girls Made Of? and Catspaw, the result is intriguing, bizarre and more than a little bit dysfunctional. More than any of the other writers drafted in to write for the science fiction show, Bloch’s fingerprints remain all over his script. Writers like Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana generally do a good job reconciling the work of science-fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Norman Spinrad or Harlan Ellison to make their stories fit within the frame work of Star Trek. However, even after re-writes, Bloch’s voice remains his own.

Knife to see you...

Knife to see you…

Of course, it’s quite clear that Wolf in the Fold has been through the standard re-write process. The script is a mess, struggling to tie together two basic plots (Scotty is accused of murder; the Enterprise is possessed by Jack the Ripper) in ways that don’t always work. There’s a really long and awkward expositional scene in the middle of the episode that consists primarily of Majel Barrett reading off weird-sounding words in order to assure viewers that Jack the Ripper really could be an immortal hate-fueled killing machine, given the rules of the Star Trek universe.

The are very serious problems with Wolf in the Fold. On a storytelling level, the pacing is a mess and the tone is all over the place. Bloch’s scripts continue to be even more problematic than usual when it comes to issue of gender – “Star Trek does slasher horror” is as borderline misogynistic as you might fear. However, there is something endearingly bizarre about the whole thing, as Bloch once again forces Kirk and his crew to confront an irrational universe that doesn’t necessarily conform to their understanding of it.

Flame on...

Flame on…

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Star Trek – Catspaw (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Catspaw was the first episode to enter production for that second season of Star Trek. However, it was not the first to air. Amok Time served as the season opener. Instead, Catspaw was produced as something of a rarity – a Star Trek holiday special. Produced in May, it was eventually broadcast during the last week of October. Given the subject matter and trappings of the episode, that seems highly appropriate.

We are, after all, looking at what amounts to a Star Trek Halloween Special.

Bones joins the cast...

Bones joins the cast…

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The X-Files – Die Hand Die Verletzt (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.

Die Hand Die Verletzt is a fascinating piece of work, for a number of reasons. The most striking reason, however, is that it is essentially a comedy episode. While The X-Files has always had a wry sense of humour – Mulder’s viewing habits are a recurring joke, after all – this is the first time the series has tried to produce a full-length comedy episode. Die Hand Die Verletzt is still a horror story, and the comedy is pretty black, but it does seem to prove that the show can do an entire episode that is funny.

The implications of this are far-reaching. At its height, the beauty of The X-Files was its versatility. The show could tell just about any sort of story imaginable, flitting between prestige drama, out-and-out horror, pastiche, broad comedy, political thriller, satire or even romance. While you could always bet on at least a hint of the supernatural and a dash of horror, The X-Files could really be anything that Chris Carter and his writers wanted it to be. It was even a show that could collide with other shows, as in The Springfield Files or X-Cops.

She's the devil in disguise...

She’s the devil in disguise…

To be fair, the second season is already reaching towards that approach to The X-Files. Although he has yet to produce a script for the series, the show has hired Darin Morgan to work on the writing team; his sensibilities would be proven truly and brilliantly gonzo. Irresistible proved that you could produce an episode of The X-Files without an overt supernatural horror, focusing on a more grounded horror. Red Museum provided an “almost crossover” with another television series.

However, Die Hand Die Verletzt is the point at which the show does something that looks truly weird in the context of what has come before, yet feeling strangely comfortable in light of what has followed. The script may mark the departure of Glen Morgan and James Wong from the show – the duo leaving to produce Space: Above & Beyond – but it isn’t the end of an era so much as the start of a new one.

The writing's on the... er... chalkboard...

The writing’s on the… er… chalkboard…

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