Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives

  • Awards & Nominations

Black Mirror – Black Museum (Review)

One of the more interesting aspects of Black Mirror‘s migration from Channel 4 to Netflix has been the subtle shift from British science-fiction horror towards American science-fiction horror.

The two episodes bookending the fourth season – USS Callister and Black Museum – exemplify this trend, episodes that would seemed very out of place when Black Mirror was “just” a quirky British anthology. USS Callister is obviously steeped in the iconography of a very American science-fiction institution, and while its male entitlement is not a uniquely American experience, that attitude has been more firmly tied into modern American politics than to  contemporary British politics.

Black Museum is even more overtly American, to the point that even the lead character’s British accent is revealed as a sham. The episode opens with a montage that practically screams “Americana!”, a big American car driving through a big American desert, a long stretch of road dwarfed by a seemingly infinite stretch of nothing, where even the jutting mountains provide a sense of impressive scale. Black Museum is set in the mythological America, a country so large that it occasionally seems to be nothing but nooks and crannies, populated with curiousities and eccentricities.

Black Museum unfolds within one such curiousity, a macabre collection of the grotesque and the ghoulish, a twenty-first century freak show run by a twenty-first century P.T. Barnum. However, over the course of the hour, the shape of Black Museum comes into focus. This is not merely a story embracing American trappings, it is also engaging with a distinctly American horror. Slowly, over the course of seventy minutes, Black Museum reveals itself as a science-fiction allegory about the exploitation of African American bodies and African American suffering; one of America’s original sins.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Star Trek: Voyager – Living Witness (Review)

Living Witness is a fantastic piece of television, and a great example of what Star Trek: Voyager does best.

Living Witness is in many ways archetypal Star Trek, a story that uses the franchise framework to construct a powerful allegorical story that comments upon contemporary anxiety. It is a story that could easily have been told on any of the other franchise series, especially Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Enterprise, but it is a story told well. Living Witness is one of the highlights of the fourth season, and one of the strongest episodes from the seven-season run.

Command and conquer.

In many ways, Living Witness is the culmination of themes and ideas that have been bubbling through Voyager from the outset. Some of these elements are less than flattering, with the episode’s racial politics evoking the clumsiness with which the Kazon were handled. However, there is also a fascination with idea of history and how history functions in a world rooted in postmodernism and recnstruction. At the end of history, is the past up for grabs? Are facts anything more than pieces to be manoeuvred on a political chessboard?

Given this archetypal quality of Living Witness, how it reflects the themes and pet interests of Voyager, there is some irony in the fact that the episode does not actually feature a single regular character from Voyager. The regular cast appear as holographic representations of themselves, exaggerations and distortions. When the EMH appears almost half-way through the episode, he is explicitly identified as “a back-up programme”, and thus distinct from the version of the EMH who will appear in Demon or One.

Core principles.

In some ways, Living Witness confirms one of the more interesting aspects of Voyager, the fact that the characters are themselves largely irrelevant to the show and that the series is much more compelling as a framework to explore archetypal ideas. Living Witness is just one of several episodes that treat the regular characters as a secondary aspect of the show, almost as guest stars who have crossed over into a completely different series. Living Witness is very much of a piece with stories like Distant Origin or Course: Oblivion, or even Muse or Live Fast and Prosper.

Living Witness is a story about the thin line between history and mythology. In doing so, it consciously reframes Voyager as a story within a story, as concept more powerful as an archetype than as a material object. Living Witness images the ship and its crew as history elevated to mythology.

Any which Janeway but loose.

Continue reading

Iron Fist – Bar the Big Boss (Review)

It’s impossible to talk about Iron Fist without talking about cultural appropriation.

There are multiple reasons for this. The most obvious are baked into the character himself, from his origin all the way back in Marvel Premiere as a white guy who travels to a mystical Asian city and becomes better at kung fu than any of the inhabitants before returning to America. There’s also very much the conversation that has been happening around the television series, which has prompted larger debates about the role of Asian performers and culture in Hollywood. Finally, there’s the fact that show so expertly puts its foot in its mouth.

Shaping up…

Bar the Big Boss is the perfect point at which to address this. Again, for multiple reasons. The most obvious is that it represents the last point at which the most obvious aspects of Asian exoticism are in play; barring the closing scene of Dragon Plays with Fire, this episode is the end of the Hand and K’un Lun as narrative forces in the context of the larger narrative. It is also an episode that effectively allows Davos to lightly touch upon the issue of cultural appropriation before brushing his concerns aside by turning him into a stock villain.

But, really, the issue is so firmly baked into the Iron Fist mythos that it is impossible to talk about in isolation.

Warding off evil spirits.

Continue reading

24. Get Out – This Just In (#227)

With host Andrew Quinn taking the week off, Darren Mooney is joined by special guest Grace Duffy for This Just In, a subset of the fortnightly The 250 podcast looking at notable new arrivals on the list of the 250 best movies of all-time as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users.

This time, Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Continue reading

Night Stalker – Three (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

Three is an interesting episode of Night Stalker, representing a threat that certainly feels less generic than that proposed by episodes like The Five People You Meet in Hell or Burning Man.

Three is the story of a house that is haunted by “the ghost of an emotion.” Given the fact that this is very much a horror show, and the themes already outlined in The Pilot and The Five People You Meet in Hell, it makes sense that the emotion in question is “fear.” Opening with a hazing ritual conducted by a secret society inside a derelict house, Three confronts the guest characters with their greatest fears. It is a very direct way addressing the underlying themes of Night Stalker, the fear and disconnect of modern urban living.

Top of the world...

Top of the world…

However, despite a good premise and solid execution, Three demonstrates the difficulties that Night Stalker is having finding its own unique voice. Three makes a conscious effort to flesh out its main characters, giving its central players personal conversations and introducing a new recurring character to help Kolchak in his investigations. However, this focus on character only emphasises how generic the show’s ensemble is. It is unfair to blame the cast and crew for something as intangible as the lack of chemistry, but it remains an issue for the series.

Three gives Stuart Townsend and Gabrielle Union banter, but it only serves to demonstrate that they lack the palpable chemistry that David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson had. The script slots Jain into the role of comic relief, but this raises questions about what exactly his function in all of this is meant to be. The central characters seem lost in the episode’s shuffle, with Three demonstrating that a solid monster-of-the-week can only really succeed when built on a firm foundation.

Hide and seek...

Hide and seek…

Continue reading

Millennium – Sense and Antisense (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.

Sense and Antisense is a misfire.

It is an episode with far too much going on, and no time to unpack it all. Sense and Antisense moves like a rocket ship, jumping from one crazy idea to the next crazy idea. It opens with the threat of a viral contagion, but quickly escalates into the realm of conspiracy theories and mind control. It is an episode that is almost impossible to summarise without sounding as crazy as some of the characters populating the narrative. It is unsatisfying and disjointed, but not in a way that makes those sentiments seem part of the plan.

The pupil has become the master...

The pupil has become the master…

At the same time, it is an incredibly ambitious misfire. The biggest problem with Sense and Antisense is that it tries to cram too much in there. It is constructed almost writer Chip Johannessen tried to condense down contemporary conspiracy theory into a single forty-five minute story that winds up connecting the Department of Energy to the Rwandan Genocide. There is a breathless enthusiasm to all this that would make Fox Mulder blush. As much as Sense and Antisense doesn’t work, it is hard not to admire it’s sheer gumption.

The second season of Millennium might not be the most consistent season in the history of the medium, but even its failures are bold and energetic. Sense and Antisense is not The Curse of Frank Black, Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” or Luminary, but it is a far cry from something like Unrequited, Synchrony or Schizogeny.

A stain on the record...

A stain on the record…

Continue reading

Space: Above and Beyond – Mutiny (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Nothing says “this is a militaristic science-fiction show!” quite like a mutiny episode.

When producing a show like Space: Above and Beyond, doing a show based around a mutiny in wartime is a given. It’s no surprise that Mutiny is the third regular episode of the show. Indeed, when Battlestar Galactica – a show that owes a sizeable debt to Space: Above and Beyond – wanted to establish its own militaristic science-fiction credentials, it produced Bastille Day as the third episode of its first season – another story about an uprising on a spaceship in a time of crisis.

His sister's keeper...

His sister’s keeper…

Mutiny is also notable as the first episode of the season not credited to the creative team of Glen Morgan and James Wong. Of course, as executive producers, Morgan and Wong would have had a massive impact on the development and the writing of Mutiny. Stephen Zito is credited as the writer on the show. Zito is a veteran television writer and producer, working in the industry since the late eighties. He departed Space: Above and Beyond halfway through the first season, moving on to a long run on J.A.G.

Mutiny is far from perfect – indeed, it is often quite clunky in places. At the same time, it is a lot more comfortable in its skin than The Dark Side of the Sun was.

Watching like a Hawkes...

Watching like a Hawkes…

Continue reading