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Iron Fist – The Mistress of All Agonies (Review)

Inevitably, being a street-level superhero show that owes a huge stylistic debt to Daredevil, Iron Fist inevitably wades into the whole “thou shalt not kill” side of superheroics.

Matt Murdock has spent the better part of two seasons wrestling with that same question. In the first season, he agonised over the question of whether he should kill Wilson Fisk, a criminal who was otherwise above the law. This angst informed episodes like Nelson v. Murdock and The Path of the Righteous. It was a reasonably solid plot line that worked as well as could be expected because it was rooted as much in Charlie Cox’s performance and Matt Murdock’s Catholicism as in any large moral or legal framework.

Knife to see you…

However, Matt Murdock revisited the question with less success during the second season. Confronted with Frank Castle’s lethal methods of crime fighting and an undead ninja cult, Matt found everything was up for debate. The series did not handle the dilemma with any real sense of grace. Frank Castle constructed a ridiculously elaborate moral dilemma in New York’s Finest, while Matt Murdock seemed to confess that the Punisher’s methods worked in .380. One of the most tone deaf sequences in the series had Frank Castle kill a bad guy so Matt would be spared.

Iron Fist puts it own spin on the age-old debate of vigilante morality. In keeping with the general tone of the series, the debate is lazy and clumsy, ultimately resolved through the same sort of tidy deus ex machina that got Danny proof of identity in Rolling Cannon Thunder Punch and control of his company in Eight Diagram Dragon Palm. It is not satisfying storytelling.

Supervillains understandably have fewer moral qualms about killing.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Countdown (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek: Enterprise spent a lot of the final stretch of the third season playing at being Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. There are a number of episodes that provide a direct parallel with stories from that earlier underrated Star Trek show. Damage riffs on In the Pale Moonlight. is very much Children of Time. More than that, the moral ambiguity and the long-form storytelling that define the third season of Enterprise also owe a very conscious debt to the work done on Deep Space Nine.

However, the final two episodes of the third season drift away from the ethical uncertainties and moral quagmires that defined a lot of the year’s stories. The Council effective resolved the big thematic questions hanging over the third season, allowing Archer the chance to propose a diplomatic solution to the Xindi crisis. This allows Countdown and Zero Hour to go about the task of providing a suitably impressive action climax to this twenty-four-episode season-long arc. There is precious little soul-searching here; instead, there is one big race against time.

The life aquatic...

The life aquatic…

In that respect, the last two episodes of the third season hark back to a more traditional form of Star Trek storytelling. In particular, Countdown and Zero Hour feel like an old-school blockbuster two-parter, in the style of Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. In fact, with Archer’s fate in question and a hostile unstoppable force invading the solar system only to be destroyed in orbit of Earth, Countdown and Zero Hour play like an extended homage to The Best of Both Worlds.

While one of the most frequent criticisms of Enterprise is the sense that the writing staff are simply regurgitating classic Next Generation and Voyager plots, this feels almost earned. The third season has largely been about the show’s journey back to the heart of the Star Trek franchise, a trip that concluded with Archer embracing traditional Star Trek values in The Council. But what fun is that journey if you don’t get to celebrate it with an epic high-stakes world-ending rollercoaster ride?

"We cool?" "We cool."

“We cool?”
“We cool.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Azati Prime (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

If you can end on a high note, the audience will forgive a lot.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is one of the boldest and most ambitious seasons of Star Trek ever produced; it is certainly the most adventurous season of the franchise to air outside of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. However, on an episode-to-episode basis, the quality is quite variable. There are great episodes (Impulse, Twilight), underrated episodes (North Star, Exile), fun episodes (Stratagem), and experimental episodes (Harbinger), but there are also a lot of episodes that are more interesting in theory than in practice.

Explosive finalé...

Explosive finalé…

It becomes increasingly obvious over the course of the season that the writing staff did not plan the year-long arc far enough in advance and that the show struggles to figure out where it wants to go after the initial burst of speed wears off. There are even a couple of outright stinkers that rank with the worst that the franchise ever produced. However, there is a lot to be said for an ending. The third season of Enterprise hits a few speed bumps along the way, but it manages to rally for an impressive and largely satisfying conclusion.

Azati Prime begins the march towards the end of the season. It was the first episode to be filmed after the Christmas break, suggesting that it was the work of a revitalised writing staff and an energised production team. More than that, it was broadcast as the last episode before a six-week break in the broadcast schedule, suggesting that everybody involved knew exactly the kind of hit that they had on their hands. It injects an incredible energy into a show that might be racing towards its own apocalypse.

Future's end...

Future’s end…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Anomaly (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Anomaly continues the sense that the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is essentially a new first season of the show.

That is most obvious in the way that the script works hard to establish the ground rules of the Expanse. There is a sense that the episode is very clearly establishing rules and plot points that will come into play later in the run. Anomaly not only explains why mining for trellium-D is such a profitable enterprise; explaining that ships without it are susceptible to all sorts of strange distortions to the laws of physics. Anomaly also introduces the spheres, strange structures that will become a key part of the third season’s mythology.

A good man goes to war...

A good man goes to war…

The show is also marking out ground for later exploration. Anomaly becomes a lot more potent in hindsight, with various decisions here reversed in later episodes. In Anomaly, Archer is a victim of piracy; in Damage, he is forced to commit piracy. In Anomaly, Archer tortures a prisoner in order to procure information that he needs; in Countdown, Hoshi is tortured by Dolim in order to procure information that he needs. It is not entirely clear whether these plot beats were figured out ahead of time, but – like the destroyed Xindi home world in The Xindi – they lend the third season a nice sense of moral symmetry.

Most interestingly – and, perhaps, most pointedly – Anomaly represents a clear return to two very early episodes of the first season. The script of Anomaly touches quite overtly on plot points from Fight or Flight and Strange New World. In some ways, it could be seen as a belated do-over.

Sparks fly...

Sparks fly…

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Space: Above and Beyond – The Angriest Angel (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.

Existentialism is something of a recurring theme in the work of Glen Morgan and James Wong.

It echoes through their work. Mulder’s choice of action ultimately serves to define him in One Breath, in contrast to the other more senior male characters in the narrative. The duo’s second script for Millennium, 5-2-6-6-6, opens with a quote from existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Even the pair’s feature film work – The One and the Final Destination films – touch broadly on existentialist themes.

Pressed (up) on the issue...

Pressed (up) on the issue…

However, The Angriest Angel is perhaps the most candid of their scripts, with McQueen explicitly explaining how his actions are serving to define his identity. In his power-house opening monologue, McQueen describes these defining moments as make-or-break points. “Everyone, everyone in this life knows when the moment is before them. To turn away is simple. To ignore it assures survival. But it is an insult to life. Because there can be no redemption.”

This is perhaps the most elegant and effective summary of Morgan and Wong’s approach to character development. McQueen articulates it clearer than any of their characters, but the philosophy applies just as much to Scully in Beyond the Sea or Never Again as it does to Tyrius Cassius McQueen. Indeed, it would come to define their work on Millennium, with the second season repeatedly suggesting that the end of the world was as much a personal event as a massive social occurrence.

Slice of life...

Slice of life…

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Doctor Who: The Trial of a Time Lord – Mindwarp (Review)

To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the longest-running science-fiction show in the world, I’ll be taking weekly looks at some of my own personal favourite stories and arcs, from the old and new series, with a view to encapsulating the sublime, the clever and the fiendishly odd of the BBC’s Doctor Who.

The Trial of a Time Lord originally aired in 1986.

Hey, keep together. This is a great day for battle. A great day to die!

Does he always go on like that?

Afraid so.

-Ycranos, Tuza and Peri discover she apparently has a type

The Trial of a Time Lord loosely adheres to the structure of A Christmas Carol. If The Mysterious Planet can be seen as the “past” story, then Mindwarp is very clearly the “present” story. The BBC’s sudden “hiatus” for Doctor Who yanked the series suddenly out of Colin Baker’s first season, to the point where dialogue from Baker referencing the planned series opener had to be dubbed out. As a result, for the eighteen month gap, Colin Baker’s first full season in the role was a perpetual “present.” It was the last Doctor Who that had aired, and – as a result – it was the version of the show that first popped into people’s minds when they thought of the series.

So it seems fitting that The Trial of a Time Lord sees Colin Baker yanked directly from an adventure that looks like it could have been filmed as part of his first full year in the role. If The Mysterious Planet evokes a hazy and romantic past, a story constructed from familiar archetypes and plot points, then Mindwarp is a very clear acknowledgement of what the show had evolved into. Given the difficulties facing the programme after that problematic year, Mindwarp is the segment of this over-arching plot that needs to make the most robust defence of the show, or at least deflect the most criticism.

Despite some interesting strengths, Mindwarp doesn’t quite construct a convincing argument in favour of the show. More than that, though, its deflections prove a little weak.

Out of this world...

Out of this world…

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Who We Are In The Dark: Zero Dark Thirty & Torture…

That Zero Dark Thirty should come under fire for its use and portrayal of torture is not surprising. The film deserves to spark debate about how we respond to these sorts of threats, and critically examine our claim to the moral high ground. However, the debate seems overly simplistic. It has been suggested that the controversy over torture cost director Kathryn Bigelow a Best Director nomination, and that’s a shame. The fact she’s felt to the need to respond to these relatively shallow commentaries is less than heartening.

Zero Dark Thirty has a lot to say about torture. It’s a lot of thoughtful and insightful and nuanced stuff, and Zero Dark Thirty actually gets to the nub of the issue, very clearly condemning the culture of “enhanced interrogation”, in a way that is much more effective than any of the commentators seem to realise.

zerodarkthirty4

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