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Star Trek: Voyager – Course: Oblivion (Review)

Course: Oblivion is a fantastic piece of television, in large part because of how strange and surreal it feels. Like Distant Origin or Living Witness, it is an episode that demonstrates how effective Star Trek: Voyager can be, once it is willing to push itself beyond the template of familiar Star Trek storytelling. Course: Oblivion is a staggeringly weird piece of television, a bottle episode filmed with the primary cast on standing sets, but which only features the briefest of appearances from the regular characters.

More than that, Course: Oblivion effectively weaponises many of the long-standing weaknesses and clichés associated with the storytelling on Voyager. It is the very definition of a “reset” button episode, in that the events (and the ending) of the episode are both catastrophic in scale and utterly inconsequential in the larger scheme of things. In some ways, Course: Oblivion is the quintessential Voyager episode, distilling the destruction of Voyager and the death of Janeway into a tragedy with absolutely no repercussions.

‘Til death do us…

Voyager could often feel generic and disconnected, a show without a unique identity. In many ways, Course: Oblivion is very unique to Voyager in that it builds those core ideas into the very fabric of the episode, constructing an episode that reflects Voyager‘s identity by channeling its identity crisis. As with various other episodes of the fifth season, like Night and TimelessCourse: Oblivion builds a meta-text around the anxieties rippling through Voyager at this point in the run.

However, Course: Oblivion is more than just an effective illustration of Voyager‘s storytelling tropes and unique sensibility. Course: Oblivion is also an episode that taps into a lot of the anxieties bleeding through the zeitgeist at the turn of the millennium. Voyager was undoubtedly a television of its time, and tended to reflect the existential paranoia of the nineties. Course: Oblivion is an episode about what it means to grapple with a person’s own unreality, to wrestle with an existence where meaning no longer exists, and everything is illusory.

“… well, that was quicker than expected.”

Even beyond those themes that anchor Course: Oblivion is the cultural landscape of the late nineties, the episode ties back into broader Star Trek themes. One of the great strengths of the Star Trek franchise is the freedom to use a science-fiction template to explore big questions. Course: Oblivion is an episode about what it means to face death, in a manner very distinct from the way that television usually treats death. The death in Course: Oblivion is not meaningful or epic or heroic. The death in Course: Oblivion is inevitable decay, a murmur in an infinite void.

The result is one of the most striking and effective episodes that Voyager ever produced, and easily the most ambitious episode of the fifth season as a whole.

Face off.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Waking Moments (Review)

Waking Moments feels very much like a first or second season episode of Star Trek: Voyager that somehow entered production in the middle of the fourth season.

A lot of this is down to the simple texture of the episode. Waking Moments centres around a decidedly “weird” alien species, a touch that recalls the early mysteries of Delta Quadrant life suggested by episodes like Phage, The Cloud, Heroes and Demons, Cathexis and even Emanations. These are aliens that do not conform to standard Star Trek logic, stalking their prey through dreams rather than with advanced technology. In fact, the emphasis on dreams in Waking Moments harks back to the vague New Age sentiment of Michael Piller’s time on Voyager.

No, Chakotay. Hunters and Prey are next week.

No, Chakotay. Hunters and Prey are next week.

In fact, Waking Moments returns to a very New Age cliché version of Chakotay. Following on directly from Mortal Coil, Chakotay is once again repeating “ah-koo-chee-moya” and talking about “vision quests.” He mentions his father as a connection to his Native American heritage for the first time since Basics, Part I, and even evoked Tattoo in discussing his rejection of shared activities in his youth. Waking Moments feels like an episode that was originally written while Michael Piller was overseeing the show, but has finally made it to air.

Of course, Waking Moments feels rather retrograde in other ways. It is a very clumsy ensemble piece that treats tired old plot twists as innovative and exciting, moving along at a leaden pace without any sense of what makes this story interesting or compelling in its own right. Waking Moments is a surprisingly tiring piece of television.

An artist's impression of the audience watching Waking Moments.

An artist’s impression of the audience watching Waking Moments.

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The Lone Gunmen – Madam, I’m Adam (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.

Arriving just before The X-Files returns with DeadAlive, it seems like Madam, I’m Adam has found the perfect tone for The Lone Gunmen.

Madam, I’m Adam is the first episode of The Lone Gunmen to really hone in on a unique and distinctive tone for the show and its characters. A lot of Lone Gunmen episodes can seem very generic or bland, engaging the lead characters in wacky capers that lead to familiar jokes that are not necessarily funny enough to sustain forty-five minutes of television. Madam, I’m Adam seems to understand that The Lone Gunmen needs to be more than just silly imagery and bodily function gags if it wants to sustain itself.

Men at work.

Men at work.

Melancholy is threaded through Madam, I’m Adam. This seems perfectly suited to these characters and their world, elegantly capturing a sense of disconnect and disaffection. Madam, I’m Adam is not the first time that the writers have adopted this approach to the characters. Byer’s desperate loneliness served to make Unusual Suspects so very affecting. The short scene in the bathroom between Frohike and Anna in Eine Kleine Frohike might have been the most effective emotional beat of the first five episodes. Madam, I’m Adam just extends that across an episode.

Madam, I’m Adam is also notable as the first credited teleplay to be written by Thomas Schnauz. To quote Byers from the episode itself, “As first stories go, this one’s a doozy.”

Wild blue yonder...

Wild blue yonder…

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The X-Files – Hollywood A.D. (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.

And now as we drift off the laughing agents and back to the graveyard , we see the Lazarus Bowl lying discarded beneath a tree.

A SWITCH, a broken tipped branch of the tree gets blown by the fan’s wind force down toward the plastic grooves of the replica as we move down toward it, we can read a “MADE IN ISRAEL” sticker on its bottom – the branch reaching toward the plastic,  like a woman’s arms to her lover —

Close on the splintered wood making contact on the colored plastic like a phonograph needle on vinyl —

And now MUSIC COMES UP – scratchy like an old record, the fourth track from BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB, in a superior interpretation rendered by Mark Snow, called “PUEBLO NUEVO” – a beautiful stately cha cha instrumental —

We pull back wide as APPARITIONS appear to rise from their graves, rotting, but standing at atte ntion and then —

When the music kicks in, they begin to dance, all of them, in the round – dignified, changing partners… we hear the bones creaking, we see the gentlemanly half skulls smiling…

And now by the magic of Bill Millar & Co., the GREEN SCREEN becomes the rest of a HUGE GRAVEYARD with corpses dancing  stately and dignified upon it as we begin a slow pull out to a heavenly perspective…

This is what life’s about. This is what the dead would do if only they could. As we slowly fade to black, the band plays on.

And we end.

 – David Duchovny takes his bow

Everything ends.

Everything ends.

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