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Star Trek: Voyager – Nothing Human (Review)

Nothing Human is very much an example of Star Trek: Voyager doing archetypal Star Trek, those abstract morality plays with elaborate prosthetics that offer commentary on contemporary conundrums.

Nothing Human is essentially a story about scientific ethics, about the question of what to do with information that was gathered through amoral means. Is knowledge tainted by the mechanisms through which it was acquired? Is the use of that research an endorsement of the means through which it was conducted? At the very least, does employing such information erode the user’s moral high ground? Does the use of such data make them a hypocrite, demonstrating a willingness to reap the benefits of such monstrous work, but without getting their hands dirty?

Something inhuman.

These are tough questions, with obvious applications in the modern world. These are the sorts of abstract ethical queries that are well-suited to a Star Trek episode, and there is something very endearing in the way that Nothing Human often comes down to two characters debating scientific ethics in a room together. To be fair, Nothing Human is a little too cluttered and clumsy to be as effective as it might otherwise be, its conclusions a little too neat, its developments just a little bit too tidy.

However, Nothing Human is a great example of the way in which Voyager tried to offer a version of Star Trek reflecting the popular perception of it. Nothing Human is a little clumsy in places, but it is an episode that is very much in line with what casual viewers expect from Star Trek in the abstract.

A Cardie-carrying monster.

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Star Trek: Voyager – The Killing Game, Part I (Review)

In some ways, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feel like a perfect companion piece to Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II during the third season, these two two-part episodes are very much larger-than-life archetypal Star Trek storytelling. While Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II riffed on Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home, and Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II borrowed liberally from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II draw from a broader pool of franchise iconography for a Star Trek: Voyager spectacular.

A cut above.

As with Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II or Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are very much concerned with themes of memory and history. Much like Henry Starling or Annorax, the Hirogen are presented as villains waging a war upon history. They have no history or culture, usurping that of the crew and distorting it to serve their own whims and desires. Of course, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II features no literal time travel, merely holographic.

However, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II is more than just archetypal Voyager. These preoccupations with memory and history are wrapped up in a whole host of broad and iconic Star Trek idea. Although the two-parter features a number of different plot threads, including the recreation of a classic Klingon conflict, the bulk of the action unfolds in a holographic simulation of the Second World War. Once again, the Star Trek franchise returns to that conflict as a formative and defining moment.

For the world is hollow and I have touched the sky.

Indeed, the two-parter even makes a point to weave the franchise’s core humanism into its sprawling epic pseudo-historical conflict. As much as The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II are driven by spectacle, writers Brannon Braga and Joe Menosky are careful to integrate classic Star Trek themes into the episode. While the story begins with the Voyager crew defeated and subjugated by the Hirogen, it ends with a peaceful settlement. Janeway grants the Hirogen a chance to save their people. Coexistence seems possible.

As such, The Killing Game, Part I and The Killing Game, Part II feels like an intentionally broad smorgasbord of Star Trek themes and iconography. It feels very much like the culmination of the journey that Voyager has been on since the start of the third season, with the production team aspiring to produce a show that might not have its own distinct texture or identity but which retains an archetypal “Star-Trek-ian” quality.

Evil alien space Nazis!

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Non-Review Review: Their Finest

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2017.

Their Finest is a charming, if somewhat overly schmaltzy, Second World War comedy drama.

To be fair, the basic premise and setting do a lot to carry the film. The Second World still exerts a mythic power, particularly to the members of the United Kingdom that weathered the Blitz before marching (with American support) to victory. That moment is powerful and evocative, Britain serving as the “island fortress” holding Nazi German at bay. The imagery is striking, from the bombed out buildings to the rubble on the streets to the sounds of air raid sirens. It is a rich and evocative setting.

Projecting.

Projecting.

More than that, it is a setting that offers all manner of storytelling possibilities. As one of the defining moments of the twentieth century for Great Britain, it is the perfect fodder for telling smaller and more intimate tales. After all, everybody knows the basics of the Blitz, so there is more opportunity to explore the lives of those who exist at the fringe of the narrative. Those were extraordinary times, and so stories that might otherwise seem ordinary are elevated to be extraordinary by virtue of unfolding against those circumstances.

Their Finest is the tale of about one woman’s struggle to be heard and acknowledged as a writer against this backdrop, fighting the war at home in any number of ways. It is a fascinating premise, and one that feels relatively under-explored in the larger context of this defining historical moment. While Their Finest occasionally trips into cliché and melodrama, and occasionally even loses focus on the story that it is trying to tell. Still, a strong cast and a lot of charm carry Their Finest a long way.

Station keeping.

Station keeping.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Call to Arms (Review)

The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one. One could say that it has affected us quantitatively, not qualitatively. As long as there are sovereign nations possessing great power, war is inevitable. This does not mean that one can know when war will come but only that one is sure that it will come. This was true even before the atomic bomb was made. What has changed is the destructiveness of war.

– Albert Einstein, “Einstein on the Atomic Bomb”, The Atlantic, November 1945

Feels like coming home...

Feels like coming home…

Can war ever be justified? Can war ever be inevitable? Can war ever be necessary?

These are very tough ethical questions, particularly when posed in the abstract. In fact, the vast majority of policy decisions about warfare are rooted in living memory rather than philosophical certainty. It has been repeatedly suggested that Bill Clinton’s reluctance to intervene in Rwanda was a consequence of the spectacular failure in Somalia, and that his eventual intervention in Kosovo was an act of atonement for the moral lapse in Rwanda. This is to say nothing of how Obama’s policy on Syria is shaped by Bush’s actions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Station keeping.

Station keeping.

The Star Trek universe is a utopia. It is a world where technology has eliminated poverty and hunger. The replicator, the holodeck, the transporter and warp drive are the building blocks of an idealistic future in which mankind seems to have found peace with itself. Dating back to Star Trek: The Motion Picture at the latest, Gene Roddenberry proposed that the franchise represented an idealised future for mankind. It was a world in which nobody ever wanted for anything, in which mankind were free to explore the universe.

This idealism is a cornerstone of the franchise. It is one of the most recognisable and universal aspects of Star Trek. This is a franchise that genuinely believes that mankind can be better than we are today. That is a large part of what makes the show so powerful, particularly in its original context. As the Doomsday Clock ticks closer and closer to midnight, Star Trek is a franchise that seems to argue that mankind has a future worth aspiring toward; a future beyond the end of the world or some corporate dystopia.

A farewell at arms.

A farewell at arms.

The franchise was never particularly interested in exploring how mankind reached that level of enlightenment. Star Trek: Enterprise was nominally a prequel series for the franchise, picking up in the wake of Star Trek: First Contact, but it opened after mankind had eliminated warfare and famine and nationalism. In some ways, the franchise could seem like a rather surreal experiment. If you imagined a world without warfare or without greed or without hunger, maybe people would get along? There is undoubtedly value on this, but it feels simplistic.

In contrast, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine dared to ask tough and uncomfortable question by challenging these assumptions. If these characters did not live in a perfect world, would they still aspire to betterment? If hunger and greed were still a part of everyday life, could mankind still work to improve themselves? If warfare is the inevitable outcome of statesmanship, then how do these twenty-fourth century people retain their values and ideals? These are legitimately tough questions for the franchise to ponder, but Deep Space Nine embraces them.

Terror on Terok Nor.

Terror on Terok Nor.

It is hard to overstate just how shocking Call to Arms was on broadcast. The actual plot mechanics are fairly standard Star Trek season finale stuff. The ominous and mounting sense of dread coursing through the episode evokes The Best of Both Worlds, Part I, the first season-ending cliffhanger from Star Trek: The Next Generation. The decision to have the recurring antagonists hijack the eponymous space station recalls Basics, Part I, the cliffhanger that Star Trek: Voyager broadcast at the end of the previous television season.

However, Call to Arms is more shocking for the one element of the episode that has been building since the first encounter with the Dominion in The Jem’Hadar. It is the beginning of the franchise’s first extended war story. This is bold new territory for the franchise, something that remains controversial to this day.

"The ball is in your court."

“The ball is in your court.”

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Non-Review Review: Suite Française

Suite Française is the name given to a planned series of five novels written by Irène Némirovsky during the Second World War. Living in France during the conflict, Némirovsky was Ukrainian and Jewish descent. She completed the first two novels in the series (Tempête en Juin and Dolce) and had outlined the third (Captivité) before she was arrested as a Jew in 1942. Némirovsky was detained at Pithiviers, before she was transferred to Auschwitz. She died in Auschwitz in August 1942.

The two novels were undiscovered for more than half a century; her daughter – Denise Epstein – only discovered the novels in the nineties. They were written microscopically inside journals. The 140 pages that Némirovsky had written expanded to more than 500 printed pages. There is some evidence that even the two “completed” manuscripts were not quite finished. Notes suggested that Némirovsky was considering revisions to Dolce so as to change the fate of a featured character. More than six decades after her death, Suite Française was eventually published in 2004.

An officer and a gentleman...

An officer and a gentleman…

Adapting any novel for the screen is tough job, let alone a sequence of five novels – only two of which were ever finished, and published posthumously. Part of the intrigue of Suite Française was the fact that these were novels depicting incredible historical events as they actually occurred. It is impossible to quite convey that sense of urgency and vitality after decades of storytelling about the Second World War. Although it is an adaptation of a novel published only a decade earlier, Suite Française has the weight of considerable expectations baring down on it.

Even allowing for the difficulties with this particular adaptation, Saul Dibb and Matt Charman’s script still feels quite clumsy in execution; despite excising most of Tempête en Juin, the finished script feels curiously over-written. Monologues tend to meander and wander, as if the script doesn’t trust the cast to convey deep emotion through their performances, as if the writers are afraid the audience might miss the key philosophical or moral points of the script. This is a shame, as Suite Française is beautifully acted and looks quite wonderful.

The good German...

The good German…

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The X-Files (Topps) #17 – Thin Air (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.

By all accounts, this was the kind of creative team that Ten Thirteen Productions probably wanted on Topps’ X-Files comic since the start.

Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard had done a phenomenal amount of work on The X-Files comic line. They had written sixteen issues of the monthly series, an annual, two digests and a slew of short stories scattered across various forums. However, it was quite clear that their approach to the comic was not quite what Ten Thirteen had hoped for when they licensed the comic to Topps. Petrucha’s scripts were ambitious, bold and playful; they were occasionally downright cheeky. Adlard was a master of mood and expression; he was less suited to likeness.

Here come the men in black...

Here come the men in black…

This had caused no small amount of friction between the production company and the creative team. By all accounts, the working relationship between Petrucha and the production company was quite strained. Eventually they fired him from the comic, making Home of the Brave the last story written by Stefan Petrucha and Charles Adlard on Topps’ The X-Files comics. Given the two had been with the comic from the start, this was quite a radical change.

However, this did allow Topps to put a team more agreeable to Ten Thirteen’s demands on the comic.

"I call it blue steal..."

“I call it blue steal…”

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Space: Above and Beyond – Toy Soldiers (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.

The Never No More and The Angriest Angel two-parter represented a moment when Space: Above and Beyond seemed to gel, when the show seemed to realise what it wanted to be and how it wanted to be about it. Written by showrunners Glen Morgan and James Wong, they presented a demonstration of just how well the show could work, and why it had been an absolutely ingenious idea to do the premise of “World War II… IN SPACE!”

So, naturally, Toy Soldiers shows up to demonstrate that we have yet to reach a point where we can do this consistently.

Oh, brother...

Oh, brother…

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