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“Someone Who Hides Behind a Mask.” “Joker”, Superheroes, Vigilantes, and Pulp Friction…

A lot of digital ink has been spilled about Joker.

This makes sense. After all, it entered the discussion as a source of moral panic. It then emerged as a box office smash. It is a potential awards contender. And it provides an interesting intersection of genre. It is a hybrid of the dominant genre at the contemporary blockbuster with more ambitious and abstract awards fare. As such, it is not a surprise that Joker has dominated public attention in the way that it has. It seems almost tailor-made to generate discussion and debate, even if that can occasionally feel deafening.

That said, one of the most interesting and frustrating aspects of Joker is the way in which the film deliberately and consciously avoids crossing any particularly provocative lines. The film sidesteps a lot of potentially thorny issues of race and gender, perhaps wary of the potential internet blow back. If the film is making a point about anything, it seems to be a self-aware acknowledgement of the desire to imbue objects with symbolic weight and meaning even when they have not been designed to bear the weight. “I’m not political,” Arthur Fleck asserts, as political meaning is imposed upon him.

That said, there is something very interesting at the heart of Joker, something that likely emerged almost entirely by accident. Joker provides an interesting genre hybrid of the seventies and eighties vigilante thriller with the contemporary superhero blockbuster. And, in doing so, suggests an interesting throughline. Joker suggests that the superhero blockbuster isn’t as far removed from these urban power fantasies as the audience might like to believe.

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Millennium – The Judge (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.

The Judge feels very much like an episode that might have worked better later in the first season of Millennium. It deals with pretty big ideas and themes at the heart of the show, but in ways that feel almost clumsy and haphazard. Millennium is still a show that is finding its way, and The Judge pokes and prods at ideas close to the heart of the series as a whole. The episode feels rather clumsy, as though the show hasn’t reached a point where it really has a handle on itself, let alone the sorts of hefty existential questions suggested by The Judge.

At its core, The Judge is fascinated with issues of moral authority and justice – in particular, it asks questions about whether such authority can exist outside (or even inside) the mechanism of the state. Given that Millennium is the story about a man working with a private group to the potential collapse of civil order on the eve of the millennium, The Judge feels like it would be the perfect opportunity to broach questions about the Millennium Group and the work that they do. After all, the Millennium Group and the supporting cast have been haunting the narrative since The Pilot.

Judge not...

Judge not…

While these tough questions hover at the very edge of the episode, it never seems like The Judge addresses them. Then again, The Judge is the fourth episode of the first season of a new show. Millennium is still young. The Judge is written by Ted Mann; it is the first episode of Millennium that is not written by a veteran of The X-Files, by somebody who isn’t Chris Carter or hasn’t experience working within Chris Carter’s world. It is, perhaps, too much to expect it to have a handle on all of that. And The Judge deserves a great deal of credit for marking out areas that the show may want to explore as it grows and develops.

At the same time, while it has some interesting big ideas and a great cast, The Judge feels little clumsy and awkward in its execution. It avoids a lot of the interesting implications of what it says, and it features a rather convenient and contrived final act that seems to exist solely so Frank Black can move on to doing other stuff in the next installment. The Judge is a misfire, but it is an intriguing and interesting misfire. It is precisely the sort of episode that you might expect at this stage in the season.

You've got male (body parts)!

You’ve got male (body parts)!

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