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Star Trek: Voyager – Retrospect (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager is a very nineties show. Sometimes that is endearing. Sometimes it is not.

Retrospect is an episode that made a great deal more sense in the context of the nineties. It was still troublesome and reactionary, structuring its central allegory in a way that was deeply problematic. However, Retrospect made a certain amount of sense when considered in light of the McMartin Preschool scandal and the satanic panic driven by regression hypnosis in the early part of the decade. Retrospect is very clearly an attempt to turn that talking point into a twenty-fourth century allegory about witch hunts and persecution.

Assimilate this…

However, there are a number of poor choices made over the course of the episode. The most obvious is build the episode around the character of Seven of Nine. There are any number of reasons why this would be written as a Seven of Nine episode, given that she is the breakout character of the fourth season. However, episodes like The Gift and The Raven have made a conscious effort to portray Seven of Nine as an abuse surviving living with genuine trauma. To put her at the centre of an episode about false allegations of abuse feels ill-judged.

Similarly, the emphasis on the subject of these accusations and his ruined life feels more than a little tone-deaf, even in the context the nineties satanic panic. Retrospect is not an episode about Seven of Nine processing abuse or even coping with distorted memories. It is ultimately the story about how the falsified accusations of abuse (from a character who is a verified abuse victim) can serve to destroy the lives of innocent men. Indeed, the emphasis on the EMH as a proxy for Seven of Nine downplays her own agency in this plot.

Memory Beta.

These aspects are troubling even in the context of an episode about the dangers of using hypnotherapy as the basis of these charges. However, the scandal has slipped from public consciousness in the years since Retrospect was initially broadcast. When the audience hears about women false accusations against men, it evokes the long-standing myth that men are frequent victims of falsified reports about sexual assault that ruin lives. This was creepy and uncomfortable subtext was obvious at time of broadcast, but has only become more pronounced in the years since.

Retrospect would have been a very clumsy and ill-judged allegory in the context of the mid-to-late-nineties. Decades removed from that original context, it seems almost reprehensible.

Blinding flash of the obvious.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Hard Time (Review)

This February and March, 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 Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Hard Time is a fantastic (and vastly underrated) episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The episode tends to get overlooked in discussions about the fourth season of Deep Space Nine, perhaps owing to the high average quality of the season or the fact that it arrives in the middle of what is admittedly the season’s weakest run of episodes. However, in spite of all that, Hard Time is an exemplary piece of Deep Space Nine. It is certainly the best of the series’ “O’Brien must suffer” episodes, and a showcase for Star Trek veteran Colm Meaney. In its exploration of trauma and recovery, and cycles of violence, it taps into the heart of the show.

Not phased in the slightest...

Not phased in the slightest…

That said, Hard Time arrives at a point where Deep Space Nine is nudging closer and closer to serialisation. The show has begun to embrace long-form storytelling, as evidenced by the ripple effect of the changes to the status quo in The Way of the Warrior and the way that little plot threads weave through the season. The show has not yet reached the point at which it can structure six- or ten-episode arcs, but it is getting close. Deep Space Nine is clearly moving towards what is (for Star Trek at least) a fairly novel style of television storytelling.

As such, Hard Time is particularly striking for the fact that it is a purely episodic adventure. The episode puts Miles O’Brien through hell, having him struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder while trying to reintegrate into society. This is the kind of plot that feels more suited to a long-running mini-arc than Worf and Dax’s arguments about the relative merits of bladed weapons or Worf’s decision to move to the Defiant. Instead, O’Brien’s trauma is dealt with over the course of a single episode. Hard Time plays as a defence of the tradition television episode structure.

Growing the beard...

Growing the beard…

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Jessica Jones – AKA 99 Friends (Review)

Jessica Jones has always been more interested in the style and aesthetic of noir than in its storytelling.

The show’s visual aesthetic and stylistic sensibilities hark to noir. Jessica Jones is a cynical hard-drinking private investigator, who routinely works cases involving cheating spouses. She narrates her harsh reflections of life as she studies the world through the lens of a camera. Meanwhile, sad saxophones play in the background of lonely establishing shots of New York as the city that never sleeps, while our hero works alone late into the night seemingly accomplishing nothing. That is to say nothing of the actual opening sequence, with its impressionistic flair.

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While Jessica Jones borrows a lot of the stock archetypes and set-ups associated with noir, its storytelling is more of a hybrid between conventional superhero drama and feminist psychological thriller. The problem is that Jessica Jones never actually feels comfortable with its main character’s profession. Despite the fact that Jessica Jones is a licensed private detective, the eponymous character spends precious little time actually detecting stuff. Jessica’s investigations are generally in pursuit of Kilgrave, with her profession treated as a background detail.

AKA 99 Friends demonstrates how uncomfortable Jessica Jones is with this aspect of its title character. Over the course of the show’s thirteen-episode run, AKA 99 Friends is the closest that the show comes to offering a straightforward “case of the week” episode. Unfortunately, it is pretty terrible.

jessicajones-99friendsa

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Jessica Jones – AKA Ladies’ Night (Review)

“New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure does sleep around,” explains grizzled private detective Jessica Jones, the first line of Jessica Jones.

The line establishes two key themes going forward, running through the first season of the show. The more subtle theme is that of New York itself. Like Daredevil before it, Jessica Jones is rooted in a particular vision of New York; in its imagery and iconography. While Daredevil was arguably rooted in a version of Hell’s Kitchen that no longer existed, Jessica Jones seems at least a little more modern and more relevant. In AKA Ladies’ Night, and across the season, street names serve as an emotional anchor to the eponymous private eye. They are real and tangible places.

jessicajones-ladiesnight7

The second theme is more immediately pronounced. Jessica Jones might just be the most sex-positive aspect of the shared Marvel Universe. Although the usual limitations on nudity are in effect, Jessica Jones seems far more comfortable with human sexuality and sexual dynamics than any of the studio’s earlier output. AKA Ladies’ Night sets the tone for the season, opening with an awkward sequence of quick and grotty sex in (and around) a parked car. The show starts as it means to go on, embracing sex as a part of the human condition.

AKA Ladies’ Night does an effective job of setting the tone for what will follow. It is an effective introduction to the world of Jessica Jones.

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The X-Files – Redrum (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.

Redrum is perhaps notable as the highest concept episode of the eighth season of The X-Files, a character drama that unfolds backwards.

As a rule, the eight season is more conservative than the seasons around it. In terms of narrative, it may be the most conservative season of The X-Files since the show’s first year. Redrum is perhaps the season’s biggest formal experiment. While very few high-profile prime-time television shows would attempt to tell a story backwards, Redrum feels a lot less bold than something like HumbugJose Chung’s “From Outer Space”Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man, The Post-Modern Prometheus, Bad Blood, Triangle, X-Cops or even Improbable.

A tangled web...

A tangled web…

On paper, this should be a highlight of the season. Redrum features a guest performance from Joe Morton, receiving a coveted “special guest star” credit for his work. (Notably, Kim Greist did not earn a similar credit on Invocation.) The high-concept premise of the episode seems like it would make a great pitch for Sweeps, like X-Cops did only a year earlier. In fact, Redrum was produced as the first stand-alone episode of the season, priming it for the slot occupied by Drive and Hungry in earlier seasons.

There is a sense that the production team are wary of Redrum. The episode was pushed back from its production slot relatively deep into the season. It was with second-last episode of the eighth season to air before the Christmas break. The show attracted a relatively small amount of publicity, particularly as compared to the “where’s Mulder?” hype of that greeted the début of the season. There is a sense that Redrum would have garnered more attention only a year or two earlier.

"The teacup that I shattered did come together."

“The teacup that I shattered did come together.”

It is easy to see why the production team were so wary of Redrum. The eighth season is a point of transition for The X-Files. The show is still reeling from the loss of David Duchovny; there is a sense that the show never moves past that. The agenda for the eighth season is to convince viewers that The X-Files is still a viable television show, even without the lead actor who helped to make it famous. While the show is smart enough not to downplay the change, the production team are keen to demonstrate the show can still do what it always did.

As such, the eighth season finds the show adopting a “back to basics” approach, harking back to many of the tropes that made The X-Files such a breakout hit in the first place. There is a lot more horror and mood in the eighth season, a lot more of the traditional scares. That means that Redrum ends up feeling very much like the odd episode out.

It's all gone a bit Martha Wayne...

It’s all gone a bit Martha Wayne…

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Millennium – Closure (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.

Closure is the first time that Emma Hollis has come into focus.

The character has been featured in the opening credits since The Innocents, but has mostly existed in the background. The Innocents and Exegesis made it clear that Hollis was a young agent who could act under her own initiative, but she was very much a secondary figure in a narrative largely about Frank trying to work through the loss of his wife. She played a significant role in TEOTWAWKI simply by virtue of being able to work with both Frank Black and Agent Barry Baldwin. It was hard to get a read on her character beyond the very basic elements.

"Closure" in one word.

“Closure” in one word.

The opening scene of Closure makes it quite clear that his will be a Hollis-centric episode. While a senseless murder in a cheap hotel provides the sting leading into the credits, the teaser opens with Emma Hollis wandering through a graveyard and narrating to an unseen character. “I spend my days looking for reasons,” Hollis narrates. “The reasons people do what they do. It’s my job, it’s my way. I want to know why. Why it’s like this. Why good people die.” So it is quite clear where Closure is going from the outset.

Closure works reasonably well. It is much more modest episode than something like The Innocents, Exegesis, TEOTWAWKI, … Thirteen Years Later or Skull and Bones. It is an episode that feels like a conscious attempt to pull the show back towards the first season, hinting at an efficient serial killer procedural. Closure feels like a first season episode, and not just because of the procedural element. The decision to give Hollis a childhood trauma as motivation feels like a rather lazy way to flesh out her character. It is efficient, but it does feel a little too easy.

Smile!

Smile!

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The X-Files – Schizogeny (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.

Schizogeny has a pretty terrible reputation among some (or even most) fans of The X-Files.

During The A.V. Club’s coverage of the show’s fifth season, Todd VanDerWerff suggested that it “just might be the very worst episode of The X-Files.” Andrew Payne described the killer tress as the series’ “worst monster of the week.” Moving away from any sort of objective coverage, The X-Files Wiki lists the fact that Schizogeny is “generally considered by fans to be one of, if not the worst, X-Files episode” at the very top of “notes” section on the episode. It is fairly safe to say that Schizogeny is not well-liked.

The woodsman...

The woodsman…

And there are a lot of very valid reasons for this. There is a lot about Schizogeny that is not good; more than that, there is a lot that is just plain terrible. The writing is clumsy, the plotting is hazy, the special effects are jumbled, the dialogue is awkward. It is very difficult to tell what is going on at certain points in the story, and a truly woeful central performance from Chad Lindberg as Bobby Rich does not help matters. Schizogeny is not a classic episode of The X-Files, by any stretch of the imagination.

However, it is nowhere near as bad as its reputation suggests.

Go climb a tree...

Go climb a tree…

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