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Star Trek: Voyager – Memorial (Review)

Memorial is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager doing a generic Star Trek story.

The episode has a very basic premise that allows for the construction of a science-fiction allegory, the kind of storytelling associated with the franchise dating back to early adventures like The Devil in the Dark or Errand of Mercy. Despite its unique premise and set-up, Voyager had largely embraced the archetypal mode of Star Trek storytelling in its third season. A lot of Voyager episodes feel very broad and very generic, and could easily be adapted for another series – whether inside or outside the franchise.

The real devil in the dark.
Spoiler: It’s us.

There any number of episodes that are not rooted in the specific premise of Voyager, that could easily have been reworked or reinvented for another crew at another point. The Chute was a harrowing story about the horrors of mass incarceration and its capacity to turn people into animals. Nemesis was a meditation on killology, in the way that militaries turn soldiers into killing machines. Scientific Method was a treatise on the horrors of animal testing. Random Thoughts was paranoia about “political correctness gone mad” translated into forty minutes of television.

Memorial belongs to a very specific subset of these episodes, something of a bridge between the more generic Star Trek storytelling to which Voyager aspires and a slightly more specific area of thematic interest. Voyager is a series very much engaged with the idea of memory and history, perhaps befitting the Star Trek series that straddles the twentieth and twenty-first century. Episodes like Remember, Distant Origin and Living Witness are all archetypal Star Trek stories, but they are built around ideas of particular interest to Voyager.

The past never remains buried.

As the title implies, Memorial belongs to that very specific subset of episodes. It is easy to imagine a version of Memorial starring James Tiberius Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Benjamin Lafayette Sisko or Jonathan Beckett Archer. It is a generic Star Trek episode that could work with any crew, perhaps meaning something slightly different in each context. (On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it would be an “O’Brien must suffer!” episode. In fact, Hard Time is quite close.) However, it is an episode that engages overtly with ideas that are of great interest to Voyager.

Memorial is about the importance of memory and history, even in a world where time seems to have lost all meaning.

Standing watch over history.

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76. Full Metal Jacket (#94)

Hosted by Andrew Quinn and Darren Mooney, The 250 is a trip through some of the best (and worst) movies ever made, as voted for by Internet Movie Database Users. New episodes are released Saturdays at 6pm GMT, with the occasional weekend off.

This time, Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.

Director Stanley Kubrick crafts a bold and disorienting look at the chaos of the Vietnam War, with a film of two halves. The first half of the feature film unfolds against the backdrop of United States Marine Corps training on Parris Island, before the second half focuses on the disorganisation of the Nam itself.

At time of recording, it was ranked the 94th best movie of all time on the Internet Movie Database.

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Star Trek – Day of the Dove (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.

It is striking how iconic and influential the third season of Star Trek is.

The third season is often written off, by both fans of the show and members of the production team. There are any number of reasons for this; a slashed budget, an exodus of talent, a new producer, conflicts behind the scenes. There is also the simple fact that the third season is wildly more variable than either the first or second seasons of the series, with its most consistent string of episodes being the three episodes from Is There in Truth No Beauty? to The Tholian Web.

Crossed swords.

Crossed swords.

However, in spite of that, there is a sense that a lot of what modern fans consider to be Star Trek is rooted in this dysfunctional assemblage of episodes. This applies to all sorts of things. The third season offers more than its fair share of continuity minutiae, from the first appearance of a Klingon ship and the first space battle in Elaan of Troyius to the first appearance of the IDIC in Is There in Truth No Beauty? to the memorable appearance of the Tholians in The Tholian Web. However, the season’s legacy is more than just one of continuity.

It occasionally seems like the franchise’s philosophy is truly galvinising over the third season, that Star Trek is coming close to explicitly embracing a utopian humanist philosophy. With The Empath, the show laid out a template for the “humans are special” stories that would dominate the early years of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a much more effective (and less condescending and patronising) celebration of humanity’s potential than later episodes like Lonely Among Us, The Last Outpost and The Neutral Zone.

Into darkness.

Into darkness.

Day of the Dove is an episode that is singularly influential in terms of the future of the franchise, both in terms of continuity detail and in terms of its core themes. Most superficially, Day of the Dove offers the first real suggestion that the Klingons might be anything more than vaguely Asian antagonists, suggesting a culture that makes sense internally and allowing them an agency earlier stories lacked. Kang is in many ways the first true Klingon, who would fit comfortably with the spin-offs’ interpretations of the Klingons.

The episode’s influence runs deeper than that. Like The Empath before it, there is a clear sense that Day of the Dove has embraced the idea of the twenty-third century as a utopia in which mankind has transcended all of their hate and violence. Star Trek is presented as something approaching a paradise.

Don't blame me. I voted for Kodos.

Don’t blame me. I voted for Kodos.

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Daredevil – Semper Fidelis (Review)

This month, we’re doing daily reviews of the second season of Daredevil. Check back daily for the latest review.

There is probably no greater single missed opportunity during the second season of Daredevil than the trial of Frank Castle.

The show does not necessarily do a great job with Elektra, but that character was always going to be deeply problematic owing to her comic book origin. Ironically, the changes that the show makes to her arc do little to alleviate the issues with the character, just shunting them around a little. The Hand are also ill-served by the second season as a whole, but it is hard to imagine how the Hand might have made a credible and organic season-long threat in the first place. Even Frank Miller made a point to tie them into his larger character/thematic arcs.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

This visual is more compelling than anything actually tied to the trial of Frank Castle.

In contrast, the trial of Frank Castle is a legitimately good idea. In fact, it is a brilliant idea. On paper, the idea of “the trial of Frank Castle” is one of the smartest concepts applied to the character in recent memory. The season has struggled with the challenges posed by Frank Castle, opting to smooth the rough edges off the character by having him walk through a familiar “avenging father” arc three times over the course of the year. Building a trial arc around Frank Castle goes a long way towards mitigating that; it is a story about Frank that doesn’t need to soften him.

More than that, it is an arc that seems designed to shore up some of the season’s weaknesses. The second season of Daredevil suffers from a lack of generality, a feeling that Matt and his cast exist in the tapestry of a larger New York; not the version of New York seen in The Avengers, but a real place inhabited by real people somewhat disconnected from undead ninjas and blind devil vigilantes. By providing a public spectacle, the trial of Frank Castle provides the opportunity for Daredevil to anchor itself back in a living and breathing New York.

The hole in things...

The hole in things…

It also ties neatly into Matt Murdock’s secret identity as a defence attorney, in a manner that is more interesting and engaging than simply offering a half-assed impression of Law & Order. By its nature, “the trial of Frank Castle” is a plot that is only really possible in the shared fictional space of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. However, it is a concept that is a more intriguing application of the shared universe than “… gee, I hope Iron Man shows up.” It plays with some of the genre’s core ideas in a way that is fairly novel and ripe for commentary and metaphor.

It is a shame that the show messes up this plot point so spectacularly.

Trial be there.

“Absolutely, one hundred percent, not guilty.”

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The X-Files – Unrequited (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.

Unrequited opens with Mulder and Scully’s attempts to stop an assassination attempt by an invisible man, before jumping back twelve hours to explain how our heroes got into this situation. With that set-up, Unrequited falls into a lot of the narrative traps associated with an in media res teaser. After all, there’s not really anything special about the teaser. There is no mystery to be solved, no strange behaviour to explain. What questions are we meant to ask, based on that opening scene? How are we meant to look at the rest of the episode differently, knowing what we know?

Sure, Mulder and Scully are protecting Major General Benjamin Bloch. That would seem to be a little bit outside the remit of “the FBI’s most unwanted”, but that is not too strange a situation for the duo. They are FBI agents, so there is a certain flexibility in their job description. The Field Where I Died – an episode with a much more effective non-linear teaser – featured Mulder and Scully collaborating with the ATF. So it isn’t as if the set-up should be striking or compelling.

Stop, or my Mulder will shoot!

Stop, or my Mulder will shoot!

It seems like we are meant to focus on the monster of the week – Vietnam veteran Nathaniel Teager. Teager has the ability to turn himself invisible, which is quite something. Sure enough, the teaser to Unrequited offers a glimpse of that ability in action. But why is it important to have show us that ability in a scene from the climax of the episode? With a few adjustments, Teager’s first murder in the back of the limousine would serve the same purpose; introducing the audience to his powers without the need to recycle several minutes of footage from the climax.

After all, the most dissatisfying aspect of the in media res teaser is not the fact that it is completely inessential. Instead, the decision to use footage from the climax means that the audience has to sit through the same sequence twice. The teaser for Unrequited works well enough the first time around, but the sequence is not clever or inventive enough to merit a live-action replay towards the end of the hour. It just saps momentum from episode, rendering the final sequences somewhat tedious. That is the biggest problem with the opening of Unrequited, even beyond laziness.

Flags of our father figures...

Flags of our father figures…

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Star Trek – The Omega Glory (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Gene Roddenberry is a controversial figure who casts a fairly large shadow. It is very hard to talk about Star Trek – particularly the classic Star Trek – without talking about Roddenberry’s influence and vision. Roddenberry was fond of myth-making when he was alive, of playing up his own contributions to Star Trek while marginalising or dismissing the other people who shaped or defined the franchise.

Roddenberry is a polarising figure among fans and critics, insiders and outsiders. To some, Roddenberry was the man who created Star Trek. While this doesn’t immunise him against criticism, it does provide a sense of context – whatever sins he may have committed and whatever faults he may have had must be offset against that. To others, Roddenberry was prone to exaggerate his accomplishments at the expense of people like David Gerrold or Gene L. Coon who shaped the franchise just as much as (if not more than) he did.

Flagging trouble ahead...

Flagging trouble ahead…

While those are two extremes, they are not the only possible views of Roddenberry. There are a broad range of opinions that might be offered, and not all of them are mutually exclusive. Ask a dozen people who know their Star Trek about Roddenberry, and are likely to come up with a dozen nuanced and defensible positions on the man and his legacy. Nobody seems entirely what to make of Roddenberry and his creative contributions to the franchise.

The Omega Glory is an interesting episode, one that invites as much debate as any of Roddenberry’s contributions to the franchise.

A strong constitution to make it through this one...

A strong constitution to make it through this one…

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Star Trek – A Private Little War (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

Star Trek is a pop culture relic of the sixties. It’s possible to see the decade reflected in just about every facet of the production. The show’s costume and set design speak to the decade, as do the series’ sexual politics. The Cold War colours a significant portion of the series, reflected in the Klingons and elsewhere. The Second World War is treated as the beginning of the future, while much emphasis is put on mankind’s expansion to the stars.

Even outside of these general parallels, there are episodes that speak to particular facets of the sixties. The Naked Time, This Side of Paradise and The Way to Eden all play with the idea of social liberation. The Ultimate Computer, Return of the Archons, The Apple and The Changeling all speak to concerns and insecurities about the rapid advance of technology and the people left behind. Journey to Babel touches on the gap felt between conservative parents and liberal children ready to embrace life’s possibilities.

Make war, not love...

Make war, not love…

And then there’s the Vietnam episodes. Shows like Errand of Mercy and A Taste of Armageddon reflect the conflict in a number of ways that were not possible in the scripted dramas of the time. However, A Private Little War is perhaps the definitive Vietnam episode. Part of this is due to the script and the production, which makes explicit reference to “the twentieth century brush wars on the Asian continent.” With the Klingons and the Federation meddling directly in the conflict on a small backwater planet, comparisons invite themselves.

However, there were factors at play outside the control of the production team. A Private Little War was produced in late 1967. It aired on February 2, 1968. However, North Vietnamese forces had launched the Tet Offensive only a few days earlier – the campaign would land through the end of March. The Tet Offensive would end with the North Vietnamese suffering heavier losses than the American or South Vietnamese forces, but the attacks would have a devastating affect on public opinion.

"Got your nose! And, soon, your planet!"

“Got your nose! And, soon, your planet!”

A Private Little War is placed terribly. It is a reluctant justification of the Vietnam War, presenting interference in a foreign war as a terrible (but necessary) burden weighing on Kirk’s conscience. The episode closes with Kirk committing to arm the natives, even if the show doesn’t have the courage of its conviction to follow the idea to its logical consequences. For all that Star Trek is described as a liberal and pacifistic vision of the future, A Private Little War endorses American interference in Vietnam.

The broadcast of A Private Little War only a couple of days following the turning point of the public perception of the war is an absolutely fascinating pop cultural synergy – a demonstration of how Star Trek was inevitably and inexorably of its time in a way that even a few months delay between filming and broadcast could change the context of the episode so dramatically.

I wouldn't look so happy with myself...

I wouldn’t look so happy with myself…

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