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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Way of the Warrior (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.

The third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was really just a dress rehearsal for what lay ahead.

The third season had been a tumultuous time for the show, with Michael Piller departing the franchise to pursue opportunities outside Star Trek. It was the year directly after the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and all attention was focused on the pending release of Star Trek: Generations and the launch of Star Trek: Voyager. On top of that, the third season suffered from a great deal of confusion and disorganisation throughout the year, making it very hard for the production team to set an end goal for themselves.

"This could be the start of a beautiful friendship..."

“This could be the start of a beautiful friendship…”

In fact, the third season of Deep Space Nine was such a mess that the production team had not even managed to hit the end of season cliffhanger that they wanted. The Adversary had been drafted at the last possible minute when the studio vetoed the idea of ending the year with a Vulcan withdrawal from the Federation. This is not to discount the long list of impressive episodes produced during the season, but it does illustrate that the third season of Deep Space Nine had not progressed according to plan.

At the same time, it was a vital learning experience for the show. It provided a clear framework for what followed, providing producer Ira Steven Behr with a foundation from which he would build the rest of the run. The work put in during the third season would pay dividends in the fourth and fifth seasons, as the show began to play with and pay off ideas that had been carefully and meticulously established during that most chaotic of seasons. In fact, the show begins paying off those dividends with The Way of the Warrior, the first episode of the fourth season.

Klingons woz 'ere...

Klingons woz ‘ere…

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Night Stalker – Burning Man (Review)

This January, to prepare for the release of the new six-part season of The X-Files, we’re wrapping up our coverage of the show, particularly handling the various odds and ends between the show’s last episode and the launch of the revival.

As with Three, it feels like Burning Man has some clever ideas masked by an ineffectual execution.

With ABC’s increasingly frustrating “no monsters” edict, Night Stalker creeps closer and closer to a more generic procedural. In some respects, episodes like The Five People You Meet in Hell and Burning Man suggest that the show’s aesthetic leans closer to that of Millennium than The X-Files; this a show increasingly preoccupied with notions of human (rather than supernatural) evil. It is worth noting that Millennium struggled in its own first season with how best to tell these kinds of stories.

Waxing lyrical...

Waxing lyrical…

Burning Man pushes the show closer to Millennium than ever; the superimposed words that appear over Kolchak’s opening and closing narration always evoked the opening credits of Millennium, but Burning Man even features a few of the quick flashes that were so exciting and innovative in Millennium‘s portrayal of evil. Burning Man also trades on the same rich hellish imagery that ran through Millennium, from the threat of hellfire to the demonic shape of the eponymous killer’s figurines. Burning Man even focuses on a forensic profiler.

However, the actual plot of Burning Man is fairly generic. The classic “he who hunts monsters…” story has become something of a genre staple, to the point where it is almost expected in stories focusing on forensic profilers. The primary plot of Burning Man evokes both Lazarus and Grotesque, both X-Files episodes that somewhat prefigured Millennium. It is a stock plot, with little to elevate it. The most interesting elements of Burning Man unfold in the background, as the show engages with its newsroom setting for the first time.

Everything burns...

Everything burns…

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The X-Files – Providence (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

It is frequently argued that 9/11 killed The X-Files.

There are two sides to this argument. The most defensible side suggests that audiences simply lost all appetite for conspiracy and paranoia when confronted with an atrocity on that scale; that viewers wanted to be comforted and reassured about authority in the wake of the attacks. This argument is perhaps supported by the significant drop in viewers between Existence and Nothing Important Happened Today I, suggesting that the audience simply wasn’t interested in finding out what the ninth season had to offer – regardless of quality.

Oh your gods...

Oh your gods…

The other side of the argument suggests that the production team themselves were ill-equipped to deal with post-9/11 reality. The X-Files was a show rooted in the cultural context of the nineties, and had just been asked to adjust to a seismic shift. The world had changed dramatically over the course of a few hours on a morning in Autumn. The eighth season had seen the show drift away from government conspiracies and towards a more conventional alien invasion narrative, one that could play as a reactionary fantasy of the War on Terror.

The ninth season aired in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. The season was actually in production when the attacks took place, with the team halting work on Dæmonicus as the reports came in. While the ninth season does not necessarily have a coherent and rational response to those events, it is clear that the production team want to say something. Much of the ninth season mythology seems to struggle with what it wants to say and how best to say it.

Fire and brimstone...

Fire and brimstone…

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The X-Files – Trust No 1 (Review)

This December, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the ninth season of The X-Files.

Trust No 1 is an episode that is more relevant now than it was in January 2002. And not just because “trustno1” is still among the most popular (and least secure) internet passwords.

The core ideas of Trust No 1 are fascinating. In hindsight, it is impressive that the production team were able to produce something like Trust No 1 so quickly after the events of 9/11. The type of surveillance state depicted in Tust No 1 would turn out to be quite close to reality in the era of Edward Snowden and the scandal National Security Ageny. “They’re watching,” the words at the end of the title sequence tease, words which seem even more ominous over a decade after initial broadcast.

Circle the odd one out...

Circle the odd one out…

Unfortunately, while Trust No 1 seems to get more and more relevent with each passing year, the episode itself is a mess. As powerful and resonant as its central themes might be, Trust No 1 is very clearly the work of a production team with no idea of where the show is going or where they want to take it. All the worst excesses of the ninth season mythology are on display here, from the heartbreaking obsession with Mulder through to the marginalisation of Scully. The dialogue is overwrought and the climax is absurd. Trust No 1 simply doesn’t work.

And yet, despite all that, it exerts an odd power. It is a power muted by some of the creative decisions around it, and by some of the choices made in structuring the teleplay, but it is power nonetheless.

Night vision, deserves a quiet night...

Night vision, deserves a quiet night…

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The X-Files – DeadAlive (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.

The X-Files is dead. Long live The X-Files.

What is dead may never die...

What is dead may never die…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Season 3 (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise is a mess.

It is very clearly the work of a production team still figuring out how to plot long-form stories and struggling with the logistical difficulties of mapping out a single narrative across what was originally planned as a twenty-six episode season. There are extended periods where narrative momentum stalls; there are key moments where it seems like the show has no idea where it wants to go next. It seems like the production team never sat down in the gap before production began to figure out what story they wanted to tell, and ended up improvising.

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However, it is also a bold and ambitious piece of television. It demonstrates an energy and excitement that had been lacking from the Star Trek franchise since Star Trek: Deep Space Nine went off the air. It is a season of television that doesn’t always work, but that is to be expected when the production team are trying something new. The failures of the first two seasons of the show often stemmed from a lack of ambition on the part of the production team; the failures in the third season are rooted in a surplus of ambition. It is hard to find them too objectionable.

The Xindi arc doesn’t always work as well as it might, but it works more than often enough to excuse the clumsy missteps along the way. There is something compelling and dynamic about a Star Trek show that is willing to push itself so far outside its own comfort zone. There is a spirit of adventure to the third season of Enterprise that had been sorely lacking from the first two seasons of the show. The biggest disappointment is that it took the show this long to find that confidence and that adventurousness.

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Council (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

From a technical standpoint, The Council is the third last episode of the third season. From an arc-based standpoint, the third season Xindi arc is not completely resolved until the events of Home three episodes into the fourth season. However, there is an argument to be made that The Council represents the logical conclusion of the third season arc. Sure, Countdown and Zero Hour provide a suitably bombastic resolution to the year-long story, but The Council is the story that really resolves the central conflict driving the season.

After twenty-one episodes of moral ambiguity and ethical compromise, The Council exists to assure viewers that Star Trek: Enterprise has not forgotten the optimistic humanism that has guided the franchise. The Council confirms what most even-handed fans had probably deduced from The Expanse and what had been rendered explicit in The Shipment. The third season was never about getting away from the core utopian values associated with the Star Trek franchise; instead, it was about an attempt to get back to those hopeful ideals.

"I told you not to interrupt me when I'm working on my tan!"

“I told you not to interrupt me when I’m working on my tan!”

As the name implies, The Council is a rather talky script; it is certainly the most talky script between this point and the end of the third season. The episode’s plot finds Archer making his case to the Xindi Council, appealing for a peaceful resolution to the escalating crisis. Archer puts aside his anger and his thirst for retribution, in the hope of finding common ground that might accommodate both sides without resort to warfare or attempted genocide. Naturally, Archer is not entirely successful; the season needs an action climax. However, he is close enough.

Much like The Forgotten, it turns out that The Council is a script about moving beyond grief and hatred towards reconciliation and understanding. It affirms that the third season of Enterprise is (and was always) following a very traditional Star Trek arc.

"Et tu, Dolim?"

“Et tu, Dolim?”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – E² (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Conventional wisdom treats as a bump in the road between The Forgotten and The Council, an episode that could easily be skipped on a marathon rewatch of the season. The argument suggests that the episode ultimately provides little meaningful information and advances the season’s over-arching plot by inches. The most critical of fans will consider an episode that saps the momentum out of the final run of the third season, preventing a clear home run between Azati Prime and Zero Hour.

This is certainly true from a plot-driven perspective. It would be easy enough to trim from the twenty-four episode season order without anybody batting an eyelid. At least Shran gets to make a cameo appearance in Zero Hour, while Lorian fades into discontinuity and non-existence. Like so many time travel stories, the final act of conveniently erases itself from existence. This just reinforces the sense that nothing that happened actually mattered in the grand scheme of things.

It's like looking in a mirror...

It’s like looking in a mirror…

This is another example of the complications that tend to come with serialised storytelling. The conventional way of telling a long-form story is to drive it via plot – to have a clear path along which the characters might advance with a number of clear markers along the way. In the case of the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise, the launch of the Xindi weapon is an obvious marker; it is a plot point which the show must address before the end of the season. As such, the show’s serialisation is typically measured by whether it moves the crew in relation to that plot point.

doesn’t move the crew appreciably closer to that plot point. There is a miniature hurdle for the crew to overcome (getting into the subspace corridor to make the meeting with Degra), but it is very clearly just window-dressing on a plot that is very clearly more interested in the time-travel dynamics of having the Enterprise crew meet their descendants. The same narrative ground could have been covered by having Degra accompany Archer to the Xindi Council at the end of The Forgotten.

He's all ears...

He’s all ears…

However, plot is not the only thing important to long-form storytelling. Theme and character are just as important, as The Forgotten demonstrated. The biggest problem with is that it is a plot-driven episode of television that advances the season’s thematic and character arcs, but with a story that is disconnected from the season as a whole. Which is a shame, because the thematic and character dynamics are fascinating. This is the perfect point at which to confront Archer with the idea of legacy and consequence; to ask what kind of future might lie ahead.

As with a lot of the scripts for the third season, feels like a meditation on Enterprise‘s relationship with the rest of the franchise and where it stands at this point in its run.

"Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this."

“Worf and Dax neve rhad to put up with crap like this.”

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Star Trek: Enterprise – The Forgotten (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Forgotten opens with a funeral service.

It is nominally a service for the eighteen people who died in the Xindi attack. (The total was given as seventeen in Damage, but it is possible that Archer is counting the death of Fuller from Anomaly or that another crew member died in the interim from their wounds.) It is a nice illustration of just how strongly the final stretch of the third season embraces serialisation, with the episode’s teaser serving as a coda to the events of the previous two episodes. It is a nice, small touch that sets the mood for the episode ahead.

Funeral for a friend...

Funeral for a friend…

However, it also seems like a very self-aware sequence. Archer is nominally talking about the death of eighteen characters, but he might as well be talking about the looming death of this iteration of the Star Trek franchise, or of the death of innocence that featured in Damage. “We’re in bad shape, I can’t deny that,” Archer tells his crew. He could just as easily be talking about the show, which seemed practically under siege at this point. “But we’re still in one piece. Enterprise is a tough ship. She took more than anyone could ask her to and then some.”

In many ways, the beating that the Enterprise took in Azati Prime reflects the beating that Star Trek: Enterprise had taken over its three year run: from a fandom hostile to the idea of a prequel and unsatisfied with an overly familiar storytelling structure; from a network that had changed hands during the first season of the show; from an eager Hollywood press that could smell blood in the water that had been ripely aged eighteen years; even from former allies like Majel Barrett, William Shatner and Ronald D. Moore.

Tripping over his emotional state...

Tripping over his emotional state…

The Forgotten is a story that is very consciously symbolic and metaphorical. It is also something of an oddity. In a way, it feels like a more successful version of what the show attempted with Harbinger, offering a light character-driven story falling between two bigger beats in the larger plot arc. With its fixation on sex and violence, Harbinger was goofy and pulpy in equal measure. In contrast, The Forgotten is an episode that is morose and sombre. It is an episode that very clearly articulates where the third season is going – and where it always has been going.

If Damage was a show about how Star Trek could easily get lost in a grim and gritty War on Terror metaphor, The Forgotten reveals that the third season was never about rationalisation or justification. The Forgotten is a show about how the Star Trek franchise needed to find a way back to its more traditional values.

A massive breach...

A massive breach…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Damage (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This August, we’re doing the third season. Check back daily for the latest review.

The stock comparison for Damage is In the Pale Moonlight.

This makes a great deal of sense. After all, both are Star Trek episodes that hinge on a series of morally questionable decisions made by the lead actor in a moment of sheer desperation. In In the Pale Moonlight, Benjamin Sisko starts a chain of events that builds towards the assassination of a Romulan Senator to trick the Romulans into joining the war effort. In Damage, Jonathan Archer resorts to piracy in order to obtain the parts necessary to make a meeting with Degra in order to plead against the use of the Xindi weapon.

A met a man who wasn't there...

A met a man who wasn’t there…

There are some notable differences, of course. In purely practical plotting terms, Sisko dominates the narrative of In the Pale Moonlight; the entire story is related directly by Sisko to the audience in the form of a personal log. In contrast, Damage is split between the demands of Archer’s own arc in the episode and various other continuity elements; the episode needs to get Archer back to his ship and devote a considerable amount of time to T’Pol’s addiction. As a result, it lacks the keen focus that made In the Pale Moonlight so compelling.

At the same time, there is something much more direct about Damage. Sisko is quite detached from the horrors of In the Pale Moonlight, with the audience insulated from his choices through the use of a framing device and Sisko himself insulated through his use of Garak to conduct all the unpalatable actions. In contrast, Archer makes a point to bloody his own hands over the course of Damage. He doesn’t have somebody else to make the decision for him; he leads the boarding party himself.

Everything comes apart...

Everything comes apart…

It is a very bold an unsettling choice, a culmination of a character arc that has been pushing Archer towards this sort of horrific choice since Anomaly. The third season of Star Trek: Enterprise has not been entirely consistent when it comes to its character arcs, working better in broad strokes than in fine detail. Nevertheless, Damage represents a very clear commitment to the promise of the third season of Enterprise; an interrogation of the franchise’s core values in an increasingly morally ambiguous world.

Damage is a deeply uncomfortable and unsettling episode of Star Trek, but it is arguably a necessary one. It is, in many ways, a criticism of the moral absolutism that informs a lot of discussion about terrible situations, suggesting that reality is often a lot more complicated than people might hope it would be.

Drowning his sorrows...

Drowning his sorrows…

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