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The X-Files – En Ami (Review)

This September, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the seventh season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Harsh Realm.

The seventh season mythology has a weird hazy feeling to it. It feels almost like a postscript.

It is hard to explain what is happening with the mythology at this point. Two Fathers and One Son had promised an end to the over-arching conspiracy narrative, but it felt like something of a half-measure. The First Elder and the Second Elder were killed off, but most of the other major players remained. Although Scully congratulated Mulder on toppling the conspiracy in Biogenesis, the same episode seemed to off-handedly suggest that the Cigarette-Smoking Man was still working on it. He was still talking hybrids in The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati.

I'll drink to that...

I’ll drink to that…

At the same time, Two Fathers and One Son marked the end of the mythology as an on-going concern. The particulars of colonisation and the nature of the Cigarette-Smoking Man’s work were confined to limbo, some sort of bizarre twilight realm where they might exist or they might not; they simply drift around the show like ghosts. Whether or not Two Fathers and One Son actually resolved any aspect of the show’s overarching plot is open to debate; however, they very clearly suggested that the mythology was not the show’s central story going forward.

In the seventh season, it frequently feels like the mythology is a hazy backdrop against which character-driven stories might unfold. In The Sixth Extinction, an alien ship becomes a gateway to meditations on the nature of human existence while Krycek blackmails Skinner and Fowley still works with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. In The Sixth Extinction II: Amor Fati, the Cigarette-Smoking Man is making hybrids and murders Fowley, but the heart of the story is Mulder’s flirtation with temptation. Sein und Ziet and Closure have nothing to do with colonisation.

Smokey and the bandit...

Smokey and the bandit…

To be fair, this was arguably always the case with mythology episodes. In hindsight, it can seem like the mythology episodes were less part of an on-going story and more meditations on common themes tied into a shared continuity. Colony and End Game are spectacular pieces of television, but they are hard to reconcile with later revelations. The End arguably has more in common with Biogenesis than it does with the feature film into which it is supposed to tie. However, the mythology always held the promise of revelations and twists to propel it forward.

The principal effect of Two Fathers and One Son seems to have been to take away that sense of purpose and destination. The mythology is no longer building towards something or racing forward. Instead, the mythology stories seem to take place in the wasteland; a world in ruins, with only the fractured semblance of internal logic. En Ami continues the trend of setting character-driven stories amid the hazily defined unreality. Scully and the Cigarette-Smoking Man take a road-trip together through whatever is still standing.

Peering through an open door...

Peering through an open door…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Council (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.

From a technical standpoint, The Council is the third last episode of the third season. From an arc-based standpoint, the third season Xindi arc is not completely resolved until the events of Home three episodes into the fourth season. However, there is an argument to be made that The Council represents the logical conclusion of the third season arc. Sure, Countdown and Zero Hour provide a suitably bombastic resolution to the year-long story, but The Council is the story that really resolves the central conflict driving the season.

After twenty-one episodes of moral ambiguity and ethical compromise, The Council exists to assure viewers that Star Trek: Enterprise has not forgotten the optimistic humanism that has guided the franchise. The Council confirms what most even-handed fans had probably deduced from The Expanse and what had been rendered explicit in The Shipment. The third season was never about getting away from the core utopian values associated with the Star Trek franchise; instead, it was about an attempt to get back to those hopeful ideals.

"I told you not to interrupt me when I'm working on my tan!"

“I told you not to interrupt me when I’m working on my tan!”

As the name implies, The Council is a rather talky script; it is certainly the most talky script between this point and the end of the third season. The episode’s plot finds Archer making his case to the Xindi Council, appealing for a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis. Archer puts aside his anger and his thirst for retribution, in the hope of finding common ground that might accommodate both sides without resort to warfare or attempted genocide. Naturally, Archer is not entirely successful; the season needs an action climax. However, he is close enough.

Much like The Forgotten, it turns out that The Council is a script about moving beyond grief and hatred towards reconciliation and understanding. It affirms that the third season of Enterprise is (and was always) following a very traditional Star Trek arc.

"Et tu, Dolim?"

“Et tu, Dolim?”

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The X-Files – S.R. 819 (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.

And we’re back on familiar ground.

The first half of sixth season of The X-Files is perhaps the weirdest that the show ever really became. It seemed like the series transformed into a goofy workplace romantic comedy, as Mulder and Scully worked at boring desk jobs during the day before investigating paranormal activity together in their spare time. It was utterly unlike anything that the show had done before or anything that it would do after. It is very strange to see so many oddities packed together so tightly.

He survived by the Skin(ner) of his teeth...

He survived by the Skin(ner) of his teeth…

Triangle, Dreamland I, Dreamland II, How the Ghosts Stole Christmas and The Rain King have enough surreal content to sustain two or three seasons of The X-Files. Broadcasting them almost back-to-back left some fans a little shell-shocked. At the time, it must have seemed like The X-Files had become a completely different television show than it had been only five or six months earlier. However, with the benefit of hindsight, it becomes clear that those episodes were just a very strange blip in the larger context of the series.

S.R. 819 is the episode that marks the clear return to the classic “tried and tested” model of The X-Files. It has everything from ambiguous conspiracies to body horror to car park confrontations. It is very much business as usual. Which is both the best and worst thing about it.

Do the Mathes, son...

Do the Mathes, son…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Seventh (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 April, we’re doing the second season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Seventh broadcast in early November 2002.

However, production had wrapped on the episode on the 11th of September, the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. After the crew finished working on the shoot, they paused to observe a moment of silence in honour of all the lives lost in that attack. That same evening, President George W. Bush would speak about those tragic events in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. It was a very tense and very delicate political and social climate. There was no distance from the atrocity yet.

Public enemy number one...

Public enemy number one…

In January 2002, the United States public still supported intervention in Afghanistan by an overwhelming majority. In October 2002, a survey by the Pew Research Centre would reveal that most Americans supported the idea of war with Iraq, a war that would launch in March 2003. Patriotism surged. In October 2001, the Patriot Act was enacted. In February 2002, the International Olympic Committee asked the Salt Lake Organising Committee to tone down the patriotism at the opening of the winter games.

This was the climate in which The Seventh was produced, an episode about a rogue Vulcan operative who must be tracked down and apprehended for the greater good.

Snow down!

Snow down!

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The X-Files – Zero Sum (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.

For all that The X-Files exists in a murky shadow world populated by ambiguous figures and a government conspiracy dating back generations, the show has a pretty straightforward sense of morality. No good can stem from evil, the show seems to suggest; the show’s central mythology repeatedly has Mulder and Scully confront the legacy of sins committed by their forefathers. Even the title of Zero Sum alludes to the hollowness of Walter Skinner’s deal with the devil, his moral compromise that has no demonstrable benefit and severe demonstrable harm.

In Memento Mori, Walter Skinner compromised himself. He made a deal with the Cigarette-Smoking Man, in return for Agent Scully’s continued well-being. “What’ll it take?” Skinner asked, desperate for a chance to save Dana Scully. Ever ambiguous, the Cigarette-Smoking Man offered, “Well, I’ll have to get back to you on that.” Unfolding a few months later, Zero Sum is essentially about paying the piper. It is Walter Skinner settling up with the Cigarette-Smoking Man. He rolls up his sleeves and jumps into the dirty work.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

Zero Sum is a story that you could not tell with Mulder. Although Mulder never faces the same choice as Skinner, the show has been quite consistent in its portrayal of Mulder’s morality. Mulder does not compromise; Mulder does not subscribe to the theory that a deal with the devil could ever pay dividends. In contrast, Skinner is a more ambiguous and pragmatic figure. Skinner spent significant sections of the second season caught between Mulder and the Cigarette-Smoking Man. The show only firmly committed him to Mulder and Scully in Paper Clip.

Zero Sum is a fantastic example of how the world of The X-Files has really grown and expanded around the lead characters. While the show will never quite develop into an ensemble, it is a series with a broad cast. It makes sense that it should begin to use them in a productive manner.

"Walter Skinner, F.B.I."

“Walter Skinner, F.B.I.”

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Doctor Who: The End of the World (Review)

You’ve seen how dangerous it is. Do you want to go home?

I don’t know. I want… Oh, can you smell chips?

Yeah… Yeah.

I want chips.

Me too.

Right then, before you get me back in that box, chips it is, and you can pay.

No money.

What sort of date are you? Come on then, tightwad, chips are on me. We’ve only got five billion years till the shops close.

-the Doctor and Rose contemplate the mysteries of the universe

If Rose proved that Doctor Who was back for a new generation, The End of the World demonstrates that it’s still the same show that it was all those years ago. The show has always struggled to do “future” on the budget afforded by the BBC, but this second episode of the show offers a glimpse of what the series was capable of. It’s not quite perfect, but has all the ambition that a revived Doctor Who needs in its first season, laying a great deal of thematic groundwork and character development on top of a visual feast. If Rose promised an update to everyone’s favourite Time Lord for the twenty-first century, The End of the World existed to assure viewers that some things never quite change.

... and I feel fine...

… and I feel fine…

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Who Do You Trust? Directors and Faith…

I remarked last week that I wholeheartedly trusted Christopher Nolan when he decided not to recast the Joker role in Batman 3, despite the fact that the character was rumoured to play a large in the planned sequel to The Dark Knight. However, it got me thinking as to what my reaction would have been had he announced that he was recasting the role, and that it was essential to the finale of his planned trilogy, and that (having worked with his star) Heath might even understand. I don’t know – I probably would have been a little skeptical and uncertain; I may even have hesitated at the suggestion. I accept, however, I probably would have trusted him on it. It’s a scarce commodity these days when the internet has given everyone a voice with which to trumpet their opinions and everybody has an opinion on everything. So, when should we trust a director? When do I trust a film maker, no matter what they choose to do?

Now that's trust...

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