Advertisements
    Advertisements
  • Following Us

  • Categories

  • Check out the Archives









  • Awards & Nominations

  • Advertisements

Star Trek: Discovery – The Vulcan Hello (Review)

What does Star Trek look like in 2017?

Star Trek: Discovery was always going to have to reinvent the franchise. It exists twelve years removed from the end of Star Trek: Enterprise. That is a lifetime in pop culture; it is worth noting that Star Trek: The Next Generation was thirteen years removed from the end of Star Trek: The Animated Series. Resurrecting the franchise was always going to require innovation and reconceptualisation, and it is clear that any new interpretation of Star Trek would look as different from the Berman era as the Berman era did from the original series.

Navigating by the stars.

Still, that does not answer the question of what Star Trek looks like in 2017. In many ways, Discovery is an effort equivalent to The Next Generation, an attempt to return the franchise to television after some time as a relaunched movie franchise. The parallels all but suggest themselves; the chaos unfolding behind the scenes, the distinctly British character actor playing a senior officer with a much more continental surname, the use of the Star Trek brand to embrace a relatively unconventional distribution model.

Given all of this uncertainty, the vocal objections of a certain strain of fandom are almost reassuring, striking a consistent note at this most inconsistent of times. Star Trek fandom has always responded with trepidation to anything new or challenging, anything the pushes beyond the boundaries of expectations of what Star Trek can be. Fandom strenuously objected to the very concept of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Fandom dismissed The Next Generation. Fandom argued that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was an affront to the very idea of the franchise.

Time is the fire in which we burn.

However, while all of this provides a framework through which Discovery might be understood, it comes no closer to answering that core question. What does Star Trek look like in 2017? Even the question itself comes loaded with all manner of ambiguities and uncertainties. Is the question being asked in terms of television production? Is the challenge being made in terms of political and social values? Is the inquiry posed in terms of continuity and legacy?

Discovery does not have the answer, at least not in The Vulcan Hello and Battle at the Binary Stars, but it is certainly asking the right questions.

The next phase.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Star Trek: Voyager – Night (Review)

Star Trek: Voyager typically bridged its seasons with epic two-parters, a sprawling single narrative told over two forty-five minute episodes separated by the three-month summer hiatus. In fact, it was somewhat striking when the production team chose to end the fourth season with Hope and Fear, a standalone episode with a very definite conclusion. However, it becomes even more ironic once the fifth season opens with Night. Rather than one story split over two episodes, Night feels like two narratives compressed into a single chunk of television.

Of these two narratives, one is definitely more interesting than the other. The first half of Night essentially focuses on the ship and crew as they venture through an empty (and starless) section of space known as “the Void.” No light can get in. Nothing seems to live in there. There are no anomalies to investigate. “Anything to report?” Tuvok asks Kim. Kim responds, “Not even a stray electron.” It is so dull that even Tom classifies the detection of “a sudden increase in theta radiation” as “excitement.”

Starless, starless night.

This is an interesting approach to storytelling, particularly for a show so focused on plot. More than any other series in the franchise, Voyager runs on plot beats. Stories tend to progress from one revelation and escalation to the next, affording little room for character development or exploration. As such, the first half of Night seems like a very ambitious piece of work, an introspective character-driven drama where there are no plot beats to distract from character. It is a very brave and compelling set-up.

Of course, Night somewhat fumbles the ball in this first half. The thread is never explored as thoroughly as it might be, the character never allowed to properly express themselves. There is far too much emphasis on the holodeck, and the ship’s ability to simulate comforts and illusions even in this most depressing of surroundings. However, compared to the way that Voyager usually tells stories, the first half of Night is refreshing. Ironically, it is genuinely exciting, because it feels like the writers are pushing outside their comfort zone.

A darker side of Janeway.

Unfortunately, it cannot last. Night can only resist the comfort of plot for so long. Eighteen minutes into the hour, the second plot kicks into gear. It is a much more conventional Voyager episode, particularly for these later seasons. There is a broadly drawn piece of social commentary that ties into the both Voyager‘s New Age sensibilities and its attitude towards the Delta Quadrant as a whole. There are new aliens introduced, that will become recurring foils. It is all very standard, and all very rushed. The second half of Night makes up for those missed plot beats.

The result is an episode that is deeply frustrating, a game of two halves were each horribly undercuts the other.

A black-and-white issue.

Continue reading

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – In the Cards (Review)

In the Cards is the perfect penultimate episode to a sensational season of television.

One of the more common observations about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is that it is the most dour and serious of the Star Trek series. It is the grim and cynical series of the bunch, with many commentators insisting that the series rejects the franchise’s humanist utopia in favour of brutality and nihilism. This criticism is entirely understandable. The series is literally and thematically darker than Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Voyager. Even at this point, it is about to embark upon a two-year-long war arc, the longest in the franchise.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

Jake and the Ferengi Man.

However, this is also a very reductive reading of Deep Space Nine. The series is more willing to criticise and interrogate the foundations of the Star Trek universe than any of its siblings, but it remains generally positive about the human condition. Governments and power structures should be treated with suspicion, but individuals are generally decent. Positioned right before the beginning of an epic franchise-shattering war, In the Cards is the perfect example of this philosophy. In the Cards elegantly captures the warmth and optimism of Deep Space Nine.

Deep Space Nine is fundamentally the story of a diverse and multicultural community formed of countless disparate people drawn together by fate or chance. In the Cards is a story about how happiness functions in that community, how the bonds between people can make all the difference even as the universe falls into chaos around them. It is also very funny.

Pod person.

Pod person.

Continue reading

Star Trek – The Empath (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Like Is There in Truth No Beauty? before it, The Empath is very much “weird big ideas” version of Star Trek.

It is a simple story, as Kirk and his away team visit a planet in a star system about to go nova. It deals with fairly universal themes, like compassion and humanity. There are stakes, there are aliens, there is a test of worthiness. In many ways, The Empath is a quintessential Star Trek episode, one of those classic “humanity proves their worth to a powerful alien species” narratives in the style of Arena or Spectre of the Gun. The biggest deviation from that template is the fact that it is not humanity on trial; it is an unknown species represented by an anonymous mute.

The triumvirate triumphant.

The triumvirate triumphant.

However, The Empath works in large part due to this simplicity. There is an elegance to the story, one that distils a lot of core Star Trek ideals down to their very essence. The Empath is very much a “humans are special” story, in the vein of episodes like Lonely Among Us or The Last Outpost. However, it works better than most of these stories because it hits on a very strong core idea. The Empath suggests that what makes humanity special is not necessarily unique or intrinsic or intangible. According to The Empath, what makes humanity special is pretty basic.

As the title implies, humanity’s greatest virtue might be its empathy or its compassion.

Shirtless Shat.

Although humanity also offers “Shirtless Shat.”

Continue reading

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 4 (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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 for the latest review.

The fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is one of the best seasons of Star Trek ever produced.

The first three years of Deep Space Nine were relatively rocky, although not quite to the extent that accepted fandom wisdom would contend. Each of the first three seasons had strong episodes, with the second season in particular featuring a strong selection of episodes that clearly cemented the tone and mood of the series. Nevertheless, those three seasons were also remarkably uneven. This is entirely understandable; the production team were consciously pushing the boat out and it is to be expected that it might take a little while to steady the ship.

ds9-shatteredmirror20a

With the start of the fourth season, the ship has been steadied. After three years of experimenting and tinkering, the fourth season is all about application. It is about recognising the most successful aspects of what came before and compensating for what did not work. The four season is about refining and honing the best parts of those first three seasons and building a new show around it, right down to structuring The Way of the Warrior as a second pilot and featuring a new credits sequence.

Although Deep Space Nine would change quite a bit in the final three years of its run, the fourth season marks the point at which the series seems to have a firm sense of itself. Deep Space Nine has emerged from its chrysalis.

ds9-tothedeath2a

Continue reading

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Quickening (Review)

This February and March (and a little bit of April), 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 for the latest review.

Somehow, it happened. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went from a show that could barely produce one good Bashir episode in a season to a series that could crank out three great Bashir episodes within the same production year.

The fourth season of Deep Space Nine is a fantastic season of television, even allowing for the episodes that don’t quite work (Sons of Mogh, Rules of Engagement) and those that fall completely apart (Shattered Mirror, The Muse). There any number of ways of measuring this success: the ease with which Worf has been integrated into the ensemble; the very high average quality of the individual episodes; the skill with which the production team navigated the introduction of the Klingon plot threads at the suggestion of the studio.

Paradise lost.

Paradise lost.

These are all perfect valid barometres of the season’s success. As is the most obvious indicator: the season is fun to watch and largely holds up on rewatch. However, the simple fact that Deep Space Nine could produce three great centring around Julian Bashir over the course of a single season speaks to how far the production team had come. After all, the studio had repeatedly asked the staff to write Bashir out of the show, convinced that fans were not responding to the station’s chief medical officer.

The Quickening is the third and final “good Bashir episode” of the fourth season, and it demonstrates just how important Bashir is to the fabric and framework of Deep Space Nine. Bashir represents Deep Space Nine‘s esoteric utopianism.

Bashir determination...

Bashir determination…

Continue reading

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rejoined (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.

For a show that is supposedly about an enlightened and utopian future, Star Trek really doesn’t have the best record when it comes to gay rights.

Many fans laud the work that the franchise did in popularising the Civil Rights anxieties of the sixties, offering memorable and distinctive parables and the futility of racism while offering one of the first interracial kisses to air on national television. Fans of the franchise are quick to celebrate these triumphs as an example of Star Trek holding up a mirror to contemporary society and championing the causes of equality and social justice. It is part of the mythmaking that Gene Roddenberry baked into the foundation of the Star Trek legend.

A Trill alone...

A Trill alone…

Of course, the reality is more complicated. As important as it was to have a racially diverse crew on the bridge of the classic Enterprise, that idea came from the studio rather than Roddenberry. The show defended and vindicated the Vietnam War just as often as it criticised and opposed it. The interracial kiss in Plato’s Stepchildren might had more meaning if it weren’t an example of telepathic mindrape by sadistic aliens, or if it had aired before I, Spy had broadcast its own interracial kiss.

As much as fans like to believe Star Trek is progressive and enlightened, the franchise does not have as strong a track record as its advocates would contest. This is particularly true of the depiction of homosexuality in Star Trek. In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, David Gerrold’s script for Blood and Fire was scrapped. Richard Arnold claimed that it was because the script was terrible; but this was the same season that produced The Last Outpost, Angel One and The Neutral Zone. It seems “terrible” is a relative term.

Kiss me.

Kiss me.

There were other examples. During production of The Offspring, there are accounts of David Livingston sprinting down to the sets to stop a shot of a same-sex couple holding hands making it into the episode. When the show finally decided to do an allegory for homosexuality, it was careful to cast a female performer in the role of Riker’s love interest to be sure that the audience did not get the wrong idea. The mirror universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine are populated with gay stereotypes and clichés.

No matter how alien the creatures in Star Trek might get, sexuality tends towards heterosexual. In Metamorphosis, Kirk and Spock only realise that the Companion is attracted to Cochrane once they deduce the creature’s gender. Odo’s pseudo-sexual relationship with other Founders is typically expressed in relation to the character known as the Female Changeling. (Chimera does try to fix this.) Although there have been allusions to Andorian marriages featuring four partners, Star Trek: Enterprise presents the relationships as decidedly normative.

Take a bow!

Take a bow!

What little queer content exists seems to have slipped in under the radar. There is a decidedly homoerotic undertone to Amok Time. In The Offspring, Data allows Lal to assign her own gender and Whoopi Goldberg defined kissing as something that happens when “two people” (rather than “a man and a woman”) fall in love. In Rules of Acquisition, Jadzia Dax suspected that Quark’s newest employee had a crush on the rogue trader; Dax was just surprised to discover that the waiter in question was a woman in disguise who was trying to subvert the Ferengi patriarchy.

All of this serves to make Rejoined the most successful Star Trek episode to deal with the topic of homosexuality. This is not to argue that Rejoined is perfect or flawless. It is a science fiction show that aired in 1995, and there are some uncomfortable subtexts to the whole story. At the same time, its heart is in the right place. Rejoined is a beautiful piece of work, because it represents a rare example of the franchise trying to live up to its own publicity. In doing so, it serves to emphasise how frequently (and easily) the property has allowed itself to fall short.

Just Trilled to be there...

Just Trilled to be there…

Continue reading