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Star Trek: Voyager – Warhead (Review)

If Relativity featured a time bomb, then Warhead focuses on a smart bomb.

Star Trek: Voyager is a fascinating television show. It is a television show very firmly rooted in the listlessness of the nineties, reflecting cultural anxieties and uncertainties; these millennial anxieties reflected in stories like 11:59. At the same time, it is also structured as something more overtly nostalgic than the other Star Trek spin-offs, a conscious throwback to the retro science-fiction of the forties and the fifties; this sensibility reflected in the nuclear parables of Jetrel or The Omega Directive, the infiltrator narratives of Cathexis or In the Flesh.

“Yes, that is a rocket in that pocket of rock, and yes it is happy to see us.”

In many ways, Warhead represents a perfect fusion of these two approaches. Warhead is a story that is strongly anchored in uncertainties about the legacy of the Second World War, the tale of a sentient weapon of mass destruction with the capacity to cause untold destruction that exists beyond the capacity of human reason. Warhead is also a philosophical parable about identity and determinism, a discussion about what it means to have a sense of self and whether an individual’s reality is shaped by their design and their programming.

The result is a strange hybrid story that captures two of the competing facets of Voyager in a single forty-five minute episode.

Explosive drama.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Siege of AR-558 (Review)

The thing that Ira and I both wanted to do, was to make war as gritty as possible. You can make what somebody called the Gameboy wars, the Nintendo War, too clean and too cute. Nobody pays a price. You see ships blowing up, and that is kind of cool. But you don’t get the feeling of what a war is. Everybody said it was our Saving Private Ryan, but we’d come up with it before we were even aware of what they were doing on Saving Private Ryan. It really wasn’t that for us. It was really much more about Starfleet, and what those guys go through, and what it must be like in that time, and how to make that work on a gritty level. Rick Kolbe did a remarkable job directing it. Avery again did a marvelous performance in terms of being the captain in a very difficult situation, and making all of those difficult choices that you have to make under those circumstances.

– Hans Beimler, Cinefantastique

Siege the day.

The Siege of AR-558 is a masterful piece of Star Trek, and one of the finest episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

In some ways, The Siege of AR-558 is an episode that has been necessary since the outbreak of the Dominion War at the end of Call to Arms. It is a story that had to be told at some point in the two-year stretch from A Time to Stand to What You Leave Behind. Had the writers and producers on Deep Space Nine opted not to tell a story like this within the framework of the Dominion War, they would have undermined the series as a whole and undercut a lot of the justifications for constructing an epic two-year war arc.

Mumy dearest.

It could reasonably be argued that The Siege of AR-558 is not unprecedented. In many ways, the episode is an extension of a narrative style that had been attempted at various points in the show’s recent history, the familiar “war is hell” story that drove episodes like The Ship, ... Nor the Battle to the Strong and Rocks and Shoals. It is very hard to look at the final three seasons of Deep Space Nine as a narrative glorifying warfare, the series often cynical about such violence.

At the same time, The Siege of AR-558 pushes that idea further than any earlier episode. The Siege of AR-558 is a story that unequivocally confirms that the Dominion War is a nightmarish and existential threat to the Federation with a profound moral and physical cost. While this idea has been reiterated repeatedly in stories like Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight, The Siege of AR-558 frames its argument in more visceral terms. It is an episode not about the abstract concept of war, but of its horrifying realities.

An explosive combination.

The Siege of AR-558 is not a morality play that operates at a remove from the violence. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which war is reduced to a mathematical model. The Siege of AR-558 is not an episode in which important people sit around a table and engage in vigourous debate about plans of attack. Instead, The Siege of AR-558 is a story about the horrifying realities of combat, of the fear and dread felt by those on ground, of the seemingly pointless bloodshed that results from all of this politicking and scheming.

The Siege of AR-558 is a war story.

A shot in the dark.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Nemesis (Review)

Nemesis is a great example of Star Trek: Voyager pitching itself as generic Star Trek.

This is a story that is not unique or particular to this crew. In fact, the story could easily be adapted to service characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or even Star Trek: Enterprise. In some respects, Nemesis might even work better if Robert Beltran were swapped out for Jonathan Frakes or Colm Meaney or Connor Trinneer. There is very little in the script that relies on the particularities of this show or the nuances of its characters.

The Rifleman...

The Rifleman…

While this lack of a distinct identity is a problem for Voyager as a television series, it does lead to some great episodes. Many of the best episodes of Voyager could easily be ported to or from any of the other shows. It was an approach that really came to the fore during the third season, when Jeri Taylor and Brannon Braga made a conscious choice to steer the show away from its focus on a crew stranded far from home and towards a more generic Star Trek sensibility.

At its best, this leads to very strong allegorical storytelling. Episodes like Remember and Distant Origin are very much archetypal Star Trek episodes, extended science-fiction metaphors with a strong moral core that evoke the Star Trek beloved by so many of its fans. Nemesis is very much an episode constructed in that tradition, a metaphorical exploration of the dehumanisation of soldiers through combat training and conditioning. It is a powerful and thought-provoking piece of social commentary and a superb piece of Star Trek.

A hard shoot.

A hard shoot.

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Harsh Realm – Pilot (Review)

This November, 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.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man.

– Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, The First Part, Chapter XIII

Harsh Realm is essentially a war story, or a collection of war stories.

To be fair, there are other themes that bleed through the show’s short nine-episode run; a critique of late-stage capitalism, a healthy dose of Chris Carter’s patented nineties existential spirituality, an exploration of American masculinity. The show plays on all sorts of genres across its short lifespan, from horror story to western to modern noir film. However, all of these unfold against the backdrop of a world locked in total warfare. The opening scenes of The Pilot unfold against the Siege of Sarajevo, setting the tone for the rest of the series.

Tom's not here, man...

Tom’s not here, man…

Carter tends to wear his cinematic and televisual influences on his sleeves. The X-Files was a spiritual successor to Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with a little bit of The Parallax View and The Silence of the Lambs thrown in for good measure. Millennium launched in 1996 and owed a lot to the look and feel of David Fincher’s work on se7en. Harsh Realm owes a lot to the resurgence in war movies towards the end of the twentieth century, coming less than a year after Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line both scored Best Picture nominations.

On the commentary for The Pilot, Chris Carter notes that the show’s protagonist was named for the philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Carter cites that Hobbes’ most famous observation is that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The same might be said of the life of Harsh Realm.

Fading out...

Fading out…

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Space: Above and Beyond – … Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

Fox has a very weird (and perhaps even paradoxical) reputation when it comes to cancelling television shows. On the one hand, there is the tendency to run successful shows into the ground, missing the window of opportunity to transition them into big screen franchises. The X-Files and 24 are perhaps the most obvious example of this tendency. Of course, this isn’t unusual in American television. If a show is making money, it makes sense to keep on the air for as long as possible.

On the other hand, the network is notoriously ruthless when it comes to cancelling young shows. Although popularised by the cancellation (and subsequent revival) of shows like Firefly and Family Guy in the early years of the twenty-first century, the network had already demonstrated that it had little time for dead weight in the schedule. In hindsight, it seems like a wonder that The X-Files survived its first season, and was allowed to grow and develop into a massive cultural phenomenon.

We have met the enemy...

We have met the enemy…

Indeed, considering the abbreviated runs of shows like Profit or The Tick or The Ben Stiller Show or Harsh Realm or The Lone Gunmen, Space: Above and Beyond was lucky to get a full twenty-two-episodes-and-a-pilot run on Fox, even if it couldn’t count on the network to air the episodes at a consistent time on a consistent day. Space: Above and Beyond was undoubtedly treated shabbily by the network, but it could have been a lot worse.

That’s not the best eulogy you could write for a television show, but it is worth treasuring what we got.

President of the World...

President of the World…

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Space: Above and Beyond – And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… (Review)

This November (and a little of December), we’re taking a trip back in time to review the third season of The X-Files and the first (and only) season of Space: Above and Beyond.

The last stretch of episodes of Space: Above and Beyond are quite mournful and introspective.

It is very difficult to tell a war story. There are a host of tightropes that any writer has to navigate. After all, it is very easy for a story about the bonds of warfare and humanity in wartime to be interpreted as militaristic or fascistic. At the same time, it is very easy for an anti-war parable to seem critical of the soldiers fighting the war, to dismiss the bravery and courage on display in that most horrific of environments.

Seeing eye-to-eye...

Seeing eye-to-eye…

With its futuristic tech and gigantic guns, as well as its fascination with the military apparatus, it is easy to read Space: Above and Beyond as a pro-military piece. Given how much pride it takes in the way that it presents military life, or how much it wallows in the military setting, a casual viewer might be forgiven for assuming the it glorifies warfare. However, this is the most superficial of readings. It ignores a lot of what the show actually has to say about combat and warfare.

Space: Above and Beyond is by turns cynical and romantic in its portrayal of this futuristic conflict – it clearly respects and appreciates the sacrifices made by those in service of mankind, but is also wary about the motivations of those ordering the sacrifices. It is a very delicate balance to maintain. However, And If They Lay Us Down to Rest… and … Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best seem to lay the cards out on the table, once and for all. This is as anti-war as the show ever gets.

Face of the enemy...

Face of the enemy…

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