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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Begotten (Review)

From a mechanical perspective, The Begotten is very much about clearing up the leftover pieces from the first half of the season before the second half can really begin.

Watching the fifth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine with the benefit of hindsight demonstrates just how carefully the production team have paced the season. The fifth season clearly turns on a number of different points, pivoting over In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light in the middle of the year. However, a lot of the first half of the season can be seen as a build to that two-parter. The production team are very consciously lining up the remaining dominoes for that big plot development.

A life in his hands.

A life in his hands.

The most obvious example is the prophecy of Rapture, which foreshadows the events of both By Inferno’s Light and Call to Arms while keeping Bajor neutral for what is to come. But there are others. Apocalypse Rising folds the Klingon War into the looming battle with the Dominion. The Ship and … Nor the Battle to the Strong are proofs of concept for a Star Trek series about war. Things Past and The Darkness and the Light keep the Cardassian Occupation fresh in the viewers’ mind. The Ascent is a story that could only work while Odo is humanoid.

There is a clear purpose to most of the storytelling decisions made during this stretch of the season, designed to streamline what is to come. The Begotten takes care of two rather major plot points that need to be addressed; Odo’s status as a humanoid following Broken Link and Kira’s surrogate pregnancy from Body Parts. Sure, For the Uniform sits between this episode and the big mid-season twist, providing the opportunity to do one last Maquis story before the political board is reset. But that feels almost like an afterthought.

Soaking it in.

Soaking it in.

The Begotten dedicates itself to wrapping up the two biggest plot elements hanging over from the end of the fourth season, closing that chapter of the show before a new one is opened. There is a certain functional quality to The Begotten, a utilitarian approach to plotting. It would be very easy for The Begotten to feel stale or trite, contrived or obligatory. It is to the credit of writer René Echevarria that The Begotten never feels forced. The subplot focusing on Kira’s birth has a number of very serious issues, but the primary plot driven by Odo is genuinely affecting.

It is a testament to the writers working on Deep Space Nine that even the act of decluttering the long-form narrative can lead to affecting television.

Free as a bird.

Free as a bird.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Body Parts (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.

Like The Quickening before it, Body Parts offers another glimpse at the humanism at the heart of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Body Parts plays into the broader themes of the fourth season. Zack Handlen effectively and memorably described Deep Space Nine as “Star Trek’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys.” In a way, that has been true since Emissary; the episode where the series got a bitter widower who wasn’t even a proper captain and a chief engineer who used to manage a transporter room on the flagship. Characters like Odo and Garak were always outcasts, while it never felt like the crew operating the station could claim to be the franchise’s “best and brightest.”

"Look, we're all exhausted after the season that's been..."

“Look, we’re all exhausted after the season that’s been…”

However, the fourth season really emphasises this aspect of the series. Worf joins the cast in The Way of the Warrior, and is promptly cut off from his own people. In Sons of Mogh, Worf is quickly cut off from his own brother. Kira brings Tora Ziyal to the station in Return to Grace, and she reflects on her isolation in For the Cause. Odo’s estrangement from his own people will be properly formalised in Broken Link, when he is cast into a wilderness between human and changeling. Body Parts simply puts Quark through his version of this arc.

Body Parts is essentially a story about how Quark is no longer a proper Ferengi. He has been exposed to the values and ideals of the Federation, corrupted and changed through his time on Deep Space Nine. Although this winds up costing Quark a lot, the final scenes of Body Parts suggest that Quark has also benefited from his time on the station. Body Parts suggests that wandering out into the winder universe and exposing yourself to different cultures is inherently a good thing, even if it does generate tension.

Bearing the Brunt of his wrath...

Bearing the Brunt of his wrath…

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The X-Files – Medusa (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.

Medusa is an odd episode of the eighth season, precisely because of its normality.

Medusa was produced directly before This is Not Happening, the episode that marked the return of David Duchovny to the show as a regular; he would remain a regular for the rest of the season. When it came to the broadcast order of the season, the episodes were shuffled around slightly. Medusa aired directly before Per Manum, an episode which featured an appearance by David Duchovny in flashback. Whether the season is watched in broadcast or production order, David Duchovny’s name appears in the opening credits from the next episode until the end of the season.

"I want to take his face... off."

“I want to take his face… off.”

Medusa marks the end of the short-lived “Scully and Doggett era” of The X-Files. This is the last point in the eighth season (and also the last point ever) that Doggett and Scully have a show to themselves. The ninth season introduces the characters of Monica Reyes and Walter Skinner to the opening credits. Of course, it is interesting to wonder whether there ever really was a “Scully and Doggett era.” Certainly, the eighth season took its time to let Scully and Doggett get comfortable with one another between Within and Via Negativa.

This puts Medusa in the very strange position of having to close out an “era” of the show that essentially spanned four episodes: Surekill, Salvage, Badlaa and Medusa. This is the eighth season’s last example of “business as usual”, which seems all the more unusual that business has only recent approached something resembling normality.

He's practically just skin and bones...

He’s practically just skin and bones…

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The X-Files – Without (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.

Taken as a whole, the eighth season of The X-Files is remarkable.

It is not a perfect season of television, by any stretch. The eighth season doesn’t hit as many highs as the fourth, fifth or sixth seasons. As great as Robert Patrick is as John Doggett, and as skilfully as he is introduced, it is impossible to replace the easy dynamic between Mulder and Scully. The actual mythology of the season feels overcrowded and convoluted, with “supersoldiers” feeling a tad cliché and Mulder’s terminal illness going nowhere of note. The season’s recurring motifs of darkness, death and body horror are not for everybody.

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files...

I bet David Duchovny really missed working on The X-Files

At the same time, there is a staggering consistency and reliability to the season. From the outset, the eighth season seems to know what it wants to be and where it wants to go. There is a stronger sense of purpose to the eighth season than to any other season of the show, with the possible exception of the third. Even the lead-up to the release of The X-Files: Fight the Future did not feel this single-minded and focused. In terms of consistency of theme and imagery, this is the closest the show ever came to pulling off a season-long arc.

It is tempting to credit this renewed vigour and energy to the absence of David Duchovny; the search for Mulder provides a solid and compelling hook for the season ahead. However, there is more to it than that. Mulder’s disappearance is a part of it, but the big thematic bow wrapped around the eighth season is Scully’s pregnancy. After all, David Duchovny returns to the show two-thirds of way through the season; it is Scully’s pregnancy that provides the season’s finalé.

"Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward."

“Thank goodness we all wore different ties. That might have been awkward.”

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The X-Files – Terms of Endearment (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.

Terms of Endearment is perhaps the most conventional episode of The X-Files to air between Drive and Agua Mala.

The early sixth season was generally quite experimental and playful, and Terms of Endearment stands out in this stretch of the season as an episode that is very much structured like a horror story and which conforms to the expectations of an episode of The X-Files. A local law enforcement official brings a case to the attention of the FBI; Mulder and Scully trade theories; Mulder pursues his hunches, while Scully offers pseudo-scientific rationalisations. There is a crime; there is a paranormal element; there is a secret.

Who said their marriage is lacking some fire?

Who said their marriage is lacking some fire?

Terms of Endearment is an episode that could easily have been written into the fifth or seventh seasons of the show without any real difficulty. Barring the brief appearance of Spender at the start of the episode, and the occasional references to the fact that Mulder is not technically on the X-files anymore, this is business as usual. Indeed, the episode’s themes of reproductive horror might have fit quite comfortably with the recurring infant-related horror stories that populated the fifth season.

Still, Terms of Endearment works. In a way, its somewhat conventional nature serves it well. As with the stand-alone monster of the week stories scattered sparingly through the fifth season, it is easier to appreciate an episode like this when it feels exceptional rather than generic. Featuring an intriguing central metaphor, a great guest performance, and a number of memorable visuals, Terms of Endearment is a clever and powerful little script. It is not a bad début from writer David Amann.

"Who loves you, baby?"

“Who loves you, baby?”

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The X-Files – Emily (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.

The biggest problems with Emily can be summed up in five words:

“… and then Mulder showed up.”

Sorry, Mulder.

Sorry, Mulder.

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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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