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Star Trek: Enterprise – Daedalus (Review)

This May, we’re taking a look at the fourth (and final) season of Star Trek: Enterprise. Check back daily for the latest review.

Discussions of the fourth season of Star Trek: Enterprise tend to focus on the multi-part episodes.

That makes a great deal of sense. After all, no Star Trek show had ever built a season around a collection of multi-part arcs. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had embraced serialisation in the second half of its run and Star Trek: Voyager had embraced an aesthetic that supported two-part “event” episodes, there had never been a season of the franchise constructed around a string of two- or three-part adventures. Even the third season of Enterprise had really been on long form story with the occasional episodic diversion.

Padding it out.

Padding it out.

These multi-part stories dominate the fourth season. Of the twenty-two episodes of the fourth season, seventeen are part of seven multi-part stories. Of the five episodes that nominally stand alone, Home is very much a thematic introduction to the season that sets up all manner of ideas to pay off later in the run and These Are the Voyages… is effectively an attempt at a coda for the eighteen years (and twenty-five television seasons) of the Berman era as a whole. Discounting these two “bookends”, that leaves only three standalone episodes.

Two of those episodes, Daedalus and Observer Effect aired back to back in the middle of the season. However, although each episode is self-contained in terms of plot, they do feel like spiritual companion pieces.

Turn the lights off on the way out...

Turn the lights off on the way out…

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The Lone Gunmen – Tango de los Pistoleros (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.

In the late nineteenth century, tango reigned not only in brothels and dance halls, where it served as both simulation and stimulation to entertain the men waiting their turn for commercial sex, but also in dance academies, vacant lots, and barrio streets where improvised dances were performed to the tune of the hurdy-gurdy. It was also played in men-only cafés. In these original settings, tango lyrics were very simple and mainly focused on the joys and pains of the arrabales, where the cult of courage and the skilful use of knives were combined with the workings of local political bosses and the police. The main characters were guapos, or tough guys; prostitutes; pimps; and compadritos, men who imitated the tough style of pimps and guapos yet most of the time worked for a living.

Tango was danced by men and women in pairs but also by men alone as they waited their turn in the brothels. It was, above all, a dance of the margins.

– Diego Armus, The Ailing City

lonegunmen-tangodelospistoleros1

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The X-Files – Theef (Review)

This November, 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.

Theef is an underrated seventh season episode, one often forgotten and overlooked as season seven moves firmly into its second half.

The episode represents another conscious attempt to get “back to basics.” Continuing the vein of Hungry or Millennium or Orison or Signs and Wonders, the script for Theef hopes to prove that the show can still produce a genuinely scary hour of television in its seventh season. It certainly succeeds; Theef is a delightfully unsettling story, one that borders on the downright nasty. From the closing shot of the teaser – a body suspended from a chandelier with the word “Theef” scrawled on a wall in his own blood – Theef goes for the jugular.

"I think he's trying to tell you something."

“I think he’s trying to tell you something.”

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Torchwood: Miracle Day – The New World (Review)

In a way, Torchwood: Miracle Day is a miracle itself. It’s a sign of just how far Russell T. Davies has brought Doctor Who, to the point where one of the franchise’s spin-offs could be an international co-production between America and the United Kingdom. Sure, Starz is hardly the best and brightest of American networks, but it’s no small accomplishment on the part of Davies.

America has been something of a promised land for the franchise since the eighties, when John Nathan Turner would spend considerable time and money visiting American fan conventions or casting multinational companions or even arranging international co-financing or to air The Five Doctors first in international territories. None of those examples really took, and most of America only really knew the franchise through PBS airings of the Tom Baker era.

Jack's back...

Jack’s back…

Davies did a lot of work to bring Doctor Who to America. That work really came to fruition during the Steven Moffat era, with a massive opening two-parter set in 1970’s America and the use of Utah as a crucial location. Massive visits to Comic Con became an annual ritual for the show, its producers and performers. The Day of the Doctor will be broadcast live around the world at the same time, no small accomplishment.

While it’s undoubtedly on a much smaller scale, it is nice that Miracle Day affords Davies a chance to be part of this expansion – spearheading his own project that directly intersects with American television. Starz is hardly Fox, the network that Davies originally pitched to, but it is a significant achievement, and a lot of Miracle Day is best understood as an opportunity for the franchise “to go American.”

Defying classification...

Defying classification…

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Non-Review Review: The Drop

It is suggested that hell is other people. Perhaps not so much. Perhaps hell is the absence of other people. Towards the end of The Drop, a character ruminates on the idea of eternal damnation – suggesting that hell is nothing but eternal emptiness, a cosmic echo chamber where the damned are left with nothing but their own sense of isolation. Maybe that is what damnation is, nothing but an individual’s own loathing and self-doubt reflected back them, amplified through the darkness.

The Drop is a tense and claustrophobic thriller. The bulk of the action unfolds around the small world as Bob knows it. Bob is a simple man. He works at a small dive, “Cousin Marv’s Place.” When asked tough questions, he simply answers, “I just tend bar.” As Bob explains, the dive bar occasionally serves as a “drop” for all the money laundered through local crime. Bob doesn’t know where it comes from or where it goes. He is only aware of it when it comes into his care and when it leaves.

It's a dog's life...

It’s a dog’s life…

The Drop is a story about isolation and loneliness. Characters reflect on their place in the world, trying to make sense of what unfolds around them. Most are unknowable to each other, mysteries and enigmas. Asked a personal question, Bob replies, “That’s my business.” When his friend Nadia asks why Bob never inquired about her own very obvious scars, Bob simply answers, “I figure that’s your business.” The world as Bob knows it is a small place. Maybe it’s constantly getting smaller.

Adapted by Dennis Lehane from his own short story Animal Rescue, The Drop wallows in its own sense of lost direction and impending doom. Michaël R. Roskam’s direction never rushes the story or the actors, allowing the film time to take in the emptiness and hollowness in this small world that briefly intersects with something much bigger and more unpleasant. Perhaps a little too stately and relaxed in places, The Drop is nevertheless an atmospheric delight.

Just Cous...

Just Cous…

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Star Trek: The Lost Era – Well of Souls by Ilsa J. Bick (Review)

This November and December, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

Well of Souls is a story of the Enterprise-C, the ship introduced in Yesterday’s Enterprise. One of the best-received episodes in the history of Star Trek: The Next GenerationYesterday’s Enterprise established Rachel Garrett’s ship as the troubled Enterprise, the tragic flagship, the doomed space craft. Ilsa J. Bick builds on that characterisation in Well of Souls, one small story from some point in Garrett’s command of the Federation flagship.

While Well of Souls feels like a rather unconventional Star Trek novel, it is charming in its own way. Bick connects her tale to the themes of Well of Souls, suggesting a troubled ship manned by a struggling crew. The novel returns time and again to the theme of unfortunate choices, the weight of making the best decision of the options open. Unlike Kirk or Picard, Bick seems to suggest, this version of the iconic starship doesn’t get that many lucky breaks, with her crew repeatedly forced to accept the least bad of a selection of unappetising choices.

Well of Souls is  a thoughtful, introspective piece. It doesn’t flow or pace itself as well as it might, but Bick crafts a compelling picture the never-the-less. While not quite the best of the Lost Era tie-in novels, it’s ambitious and insightful. It lacks the energy of Serpents Among the Ruins or The Art of the Impossible, but it’s still a very worthy read for anybody looking to sketch out a gap in the Star Trek mythos.

tng-wellofsouls

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The High Ground (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The High Ground is a rather earnest issue-driven episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, dealing with one of the big issues of the day: international terrorism. However, the moral ambiguity of terrorism was a decidedly more contentious and controversial issue in early 1990 than the plight of Vietnam veterans explored in The Hunted or the Cold War politics of The Defector.

The High Ground is an allegory for the Troubles in Northern Ireland at a point in time where the Troubles were on-going. 1990 saw a number of high-profile terrorist actions conducted by the IRA. They bombed the London Stock Exchange in July. Using an explosive device, they murdered Sergeant Charles Chapman in May. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for his death. In February 1991, the IRA launched a mortar attack on 10 Downing Street. So this was the context in which The High Ground aired.

And, to be fair, there’s something admirable about the show’s willingness to engage with a controversial issue, even if the end result leaves a lot to be desired.

Holding hands around the universe...

Holding hands around the universe…

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