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Star Trek: Voyager – Infinite Regress (Review)

As with One from late in the fourth season, Infinite Regress is an episode that uses Seven of Nine’s cybernetic mind as a vehicle for psychological horror.

Producer Brannon Braga has always been interested in constructing psychological thrillers within the science-fiction framework of Star Trek, using the franchise’s pseudo-science trappings as a way to explore themes of mental deterioration or disconnect. Frame of Mind is probably the first example, but there are many others. Braga is very interested in having his characters question the nature of their reality, of trapping them within their own minds, of undercutting their sense of self. That interest bled into the shows around him.

Self-image.

Star Trek: Voyager presented the writers with an artificial computer-generated character who could more readily combine the writer’s fascination with psychological thrillers and the franchise’s engagement with advanced technology. The EMH was a character whose mind was comprised entirely of computer protocols and software code. His mind could be unfurled on monitors, buffered in memory, fragmented on the hard drive. Episodes like Projections, The Swarm and Darkling suggested a character prone to psychosis, reinforced by Dejaren’s breakdown in Revulsion.

However, the addition of Seven of Nine to the cast in Scorpion, Part II seemed to provide the the Voyager writers (and Braga in particular) with character who could function as an even more effective vehicle for these sorts of stories. Seven is a fusion of human and machine, an organic brain augmented by technological components. She is a character whose mind is in many ways already divided, whose sense of self is understandably fragile. As such, Seven is ideally suited to stories like Infinite Regress.

Mind your step.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Waking Moments (Review)

Waking Moments feels very much like a first or second season episode of Star Trek: Voyager that somehow entered production in the middle of the fourth season.

A lot of this is down to the simple texture of the episode. Waking Moments centres around a decidedly “weird” alien species, a touch that recalls the early mysteries of Delta Quadrant life suggested by episodes like Phage, The Cloud, Heroes and Demons, Cathexis and even Emanations. These are aliens that do not conform to standard Star Trek logic, stalking their prey through dreams rather than with advanced technology. In fact, the emphasis on dreams in Waking Moments harks back to the vague New Age sentiment of Michael Piller’s time on Voyager.

No, Chakotay. Hunters and Prey are next week.

No, Chakotay. Hunters and Prey are next week.

In fact, Waking Moments returns to a very New Age cliché version of Chakotay. Following on directly from Mortal Coil, Chakotay is once again repeating “ah-koo-chee-moya” and talking about “vision quests.” He mentions his father as a connection to his Native American heritage for the first time since Basics, Part I, and even evoked Tattoo in discussing his rejection of shared activities in his youth. Waking Moments feels like an episode that was originally written while Michael Piller was overseeing the show, but has finally made it to air.

Of course, Waking Moments feels rather retrograde in other ways. It is a very clumsy ensemble piece that treats tired old plot twists as innovative and exciting, moving along at a leaden pace without any sense of what makes this story interesting or compelling in its own right. Waking Moments is a surprisingly tiring piece of television.

An artist's impression of the audience watching Waking Moments.

An artist’s impression of the audience watching Waking Moments.

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The X-Files – Release (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Release is a breath of fresh air.

There are problems with the episode, serious problems. The plotting is incredibly loose, with Release relying upon a series of incredible contrivances even once you get past the supernaturally-gifted crime-solver who only joined the FBI so he could solve a murder that happens to connect back to Luke Doggett. At best, Release is clumsy and inelegant. At worst, it makes absolutely no sense. More than that, there is the question of whether or not the episode is actually necessary. Does The X-Files actually need to resolve the murder of Luke Doggett?

Picture perfect...

Picture perfect…

These are fairly sizable and fundamental problems. There is no getting around them. However, Release offsets those problems by being a spectacularly-produced piece of television. Everything works, from Robert Patrick’s performance to Mark Snow’s piano-heavy score to Kim Manner’s stylised direction. Release is a reminder of just how sleek and well-oiled The X-Files could be. That is quite a relief after the triple whammy of Scary Monsters, Jump the Shark and William. Release is a good episode on its own terms; in context, it is a masterpiece.

It also helps that Release feels like the first attempt to give the show actual material closure since Improbable. That closure is thematic rather than literal, with the mystery of Luke Doggett’s death serving as a vehicle through which the show might finally resolve some of its own lingering threads. In the case of Release, the show is tidying away the strands that have been woven into the fabric of The X-Files from the beginning; strands that paid homage to Silence of the Lambs and gave birth to Millennium. Release bids farewell to the forensic side of The X-Files.

The old man and the sea...

The old man and the sea…

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The X-Files – Audrey Pauley (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

One of the surprising aspects of the ninth season is just how strong the episodes centring on Doggett and Reyes are.

True, there are not necessarily too many “all-time classic” episodes to be found across the length and breadth of the ninth season; that is arguably true of every season since the sixth. The strongest episodes of the ninth season tend to be those focusing on the two new lead characters actually doing their jobs and navigating the weird world around them. 4-D, John Doe, Hellbound and Audrey Pauley rank among the very best that the ninth season has to offer. The biggest problem with the ninth season is the difficulty that the show has maintaining that level of quality.

Into the void...

Into the void…

The ninth season never manages any real consistency. It never commits to one vision of the show or the other. While the stronger episodes suggest that The X-Files might be ready to move on past Mulder and Scully to embrace Doggett and Reyes, the show always returns to insisting that Mulder is still the most important character on the show despite David Duchnovny’s reluctance to return. Nothing Important Happened Today I featured David Duchovny’s stunt butt before Gillian Anderson, Robert Patrick or Annabeth Gish. That is the show’s priority.

This becomes particularly troublesome in the second half of the season. Steven Maeda seems to have a great deal of luck in his ninth season writing assignment, tackling episodes that wind up taking on a larger symbolic importance. 4-D was the first episode to be both produced and broadcast after the events of 9/11, due to scheduling choices that pushed Hellbound later into the season. Although Nothing Important Happened Today I was broadcast nearly two months after the attacks, the production team were actually working on Dæmonicus when news broke.

"Woops. Sorry. Wrong wall."

“Woops. Sorry. Wrong wall.”

Audrey Pauley winds up being the first episode to be produced and broadcast after the cancellation of The X-Files had been announced. The public had been informed of the cancellation between the broadcast of John Doe and Hellbound. The production team had found out while working on Scary Monsters. Due to scheduling choices, Scary Monsters had been pushed back later into the season and Audrey Pauley was aired first. Although it is quite likely Maeda was working on Audrey Pauley long before the cancellation, it still echoes through the work.

Audrey Pauley plays into some of Maeda’s core themes, suggesting alternate and pocket realities that navigate the void between life and death. As with 4-D, Audrey Pauley is very much a post-9/11 episode of The X-Files. However, it is also very much a post-cancellation episode of The X-Files.

Now, where have I seen this before?

Now, where have I seen this before?

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The X-Files – Lord of the Flies (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Lord of the Flies is an interesting episode, but not a good one.

After 4-D worked so hard to offer a glimpse of what The X-Files could or should look like in December 2001, Lord of the Flies feels like a step backwards. It is a regression, and not just because it awkwardly transitions Scully back into the role of lead character or because it returns to the comedy stylings largely eschewed by the eighth season. Lord of the Flies feels like a script that could have been written for the show in its third or fourth seasons, returning to the well-tapped reservoir of teen angst that has sustained quite a few episodes at this point.

Flies by...

Flies by…

Only a handful of elements serve to mark Lord of the Flies as a piece twenty-first century television. While Scully gets to play action hero at the climax, Mulder is gone; Doggett and Reyes do a lot of the generic detective work across the hour, even if little of their personalities gets to shine through. More than that, Aaron Paul and Jane Lynch pop up in supporting roles that nod towards the various futures of network television. In particular, Paul appears in a home-made stunt show called “Dumb Ass”, an obvious (and shallow) parody of Jackass.

However, Lord of the Flies is not particularly interested in any of these newer elements. The script very clearly wants to hark backwards, towards a past that is no longer easily accessible.

Somewhere, Scully is jealous...

Somewhere, Scully is jealous…

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The X-Files – 4-D (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

In many ways, the ninth season begins with 4-D.

This is perhaps the perfect point for an “alternate reality” episode. After all, The X-Files has undergone a transformation; the reality of the show has been fundamentally and impossibly altered. It might have the same title, it might have an opening sequence that somewhat resembles the old opening sequence, it might even have continuity of characters like Scully and Skinner. However, something has changed. This is not Mulder and Scully, but this is still The X-Files. The show has transitioned. The world has changed around it.

A close shave...

A close shave…

The first three episodes of the season – Nothing Important Happened Today I, Nothing Important Happened Today II, and Dæmonicus – were all produced before 9/11, even though they were broadcast two months after the attacks. (9/11 actually fell during the production of Dæmonicus, with shooting stopping for a day.) The fourth episode of the season, Hellbound, was pushed back deeper into the broadcast order. As such, 4-D was the first episode to be both produced and aired after 9/11.

Appropriately enough, that means that 4-D exists in a different world than the episodes directly preceding it. It has been remarked that the events of 9/11 represented a break in cultural continuity, a line by which history might (relatively cleanly) be divided. There was the world “before 9/11” and “after 9/11.” Although the worlds might look quite similar – and even identical, in many cases – they should not be confused. The world is not as it was. Reality has come undone.

Well, Doggett could always make it as a stand-up comedian.

Well, Doggett could always make it as a stand-up comedian.

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The Lone Gunmen – Madam, I’m Adam (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.

Arriving just before The X-Files returns with DeadAlive, it seems like Madam, I’m Adam has found the perfect tone for The Lone Gunmen.

Madam, I’m Adam is the first episode of The Lone Gunmen to really hone in on a unique and distinctive tone for the show and its characters. A lot of Lone Gunmen episodes can seem very generic or bland, engaging the lead characters in wacky capers that lead to familiar jokes that are not necessarily funny enough to sustain forty-five minutes of television. Madam, I’m Adam seems to understand that The Lone Gunmen needs to be more than just silly imagery and bodily function gags if it wants to sustain itself.

Men at work.

Men at work.

Melancholy is threaded through Madam, I’m Adam. This seems perfectly suited to these characters and their world, elegantly capturing a sense of disconnect and disaffection. Madam, I’m Adam is not the first time that the writers have adopted this approach to the characters. Byer’s desperate loneliness served to make Unusual Suspects so very affecting. The short scene in the bathroom between Frohike and Anna in Eine Kleine Frohike might have been the most effective emotional beat of the first five episodes. Madam, I’m Adam just extends that across an episode.

Madam, I’m Adam is also notable as the first credited teleplay to be written by Thomas Schnauz. To quote Byers from the episode itself, “As first stories go, this one’s a doozy.”

Wild blue yonder...

Wild blue yonder…

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