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Harsh Realm – Reunion (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.

So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power: but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more.

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

Reunion continues the sense that Chris Carter envisioned Harsh Realm as something of an allegorical episodic adventure series through a post-apocalyptic reflection of contemporary America.

Carter quite clearly wanted to use Harsh Realm as a vehicle to explore and comment upon certain aspects of the American experience. Inga Fossa touched on the links between projected masculinity and violence; Cincinnati will find Santiago’s “manifest destiny” brushing up against the country’s Native American population. Even scripts like Three Percenters and Manus Domini feel tied into Carter’s large oeuvre, touching on the writer’s recurring fascination with homogeneity and spirituality in the modern world.

Things come to a head...

Things come to a head…

Reunion is very consciously a critique of excessive and abusive capitalism, presenting a vision of America built upon the economics of slave labour reinforced by the rhetoric of freedom and competition. In some respects, Reunion feels like Harsh Realm is channelling the spirit of classic science-fiction television like Star Trek or The Twilight Zone. Its central allegory is hardly subtle, but there is a goofy charm in carrying these ideas well past their logical extremes. The vision of labour presented in Reunion is grotesque and exaggerated, but it is not completely fantastical.

Reunion also reaffirms the link that exists between the digital world and the real world, suggesting that perhaps the world that we inhabit is not as far removed from the horrors of the virtual reality as might hope.

Family matters...

Family matters…

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The X-Files – First Person Shooter (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.

On paper, this should be a slam dunk.

X-Cops was an incredibly risky and experimental episode of The X-Files that really pushed the show in an unexpected direction. The idea of crossing over into Cops was strange and surreal; it seemed like a gimmick that could backfire spectacularly. How could an episode of The X-Files adopt many of the identifiers and signifiers of Cops while still managing to tell its own story? It was a risky proposition, but writer Vince Gilligan and director Michael Watkins managed to pull it off, producing a definite highlight of the seventh season. (If not the final three seasons.)

Game on.

Game on.

First Person Shooter is a similarly ambitious episode, but one that should be a much safer bet. While it pushes the show outside its comfort zone in terms of setting and concept, it does not stray too far from the basic X-Files template. It is written by outsider writers William Gibson and Tom Maddox, but could logically be seen an extension of their superlative script for Kill Switch. In fact, Kill Switch wasn’t even the show’s first “killer artificial intelligence” story; Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa had written Ghost in the Machine as the series’ eighth episode.

On paper, First Person Shooter is ambitious without being entirely unprecedented. Still, the script bends the show too far out of shape. The episode seems to warp and distort the series around it. Despite the fact that First Person Shooter contains far more of the trappings and structures of The X-Files than X-Cops, the episode feels far less comfortable in its own skin. First Person Shooter plays almost like an episode of The X-Files filtered through a lens of unreality; it feels like a textured wireframe model of an X-Files episode, wandering lost in the uncanny valley.

Game over.

Game over.

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The X-Files – Kill Switch (Review)

This May and June, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the fifth season of The X-Files and the second season of Millennium.

On the surface of it, William Gibson seems a strange fit for The X-Files.

He certainly seems like a more eccentric choice than Stephen King. King was a writer famed for his horror stories, with a fascination for small-town life and an interest in guilt as a legacy of American history. On paper, King should have been the perfect “special guest writer” for the show, able to churn out a script that would resonate perfectly with the larger themes of The X-Files while still sitting comfortably within his own oeuvre. While Chinga is not a bad episode, it is not an exceptional episode by any measure. It feels perfectly adequate.

Well, that's going in the DVD menu.

Well, that’s going in the DVD menu.

As such, Kill Switch seems like a story that could go horribly wrong. Gibson is a writer most famous for his work in defining and popularising “cyberpunk”, a science-fiction subgenre that is far removed from the horror trappings generally associated with The X-Files. Gibson was a writer who tended to explore the possible future development of cyberspace and associated issues, while Carter worked very hard to anchor The X-Files in the now. Gibson’s stories seemed to take place in the not-too-distant future; Carter grounded The X-Files in a very particular now.

However, Kill Switch works. It works phenomenally well. It is an episode that feels markedly different from everything else around it, while still feeling like it belongs to The X-Files. The clash of styles is evident in Kill Switch, as writers William Gibson and Thomas Maddox find themselves adapting their themes and ideas to a completely different aesthetic. That is perhaps part of appeal. While Chinga made it look quite easy to construct a solid Stephen King story that was also a solid episode of The X-Files, Kill Switch is nowhere near as smooth. This is a different beast. And it is glorious.

"Woah, woah, woah. What happened to floppies?"

“Woah, woah, woah. What happened to floppies?”

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Q Who? (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Q Who? throws down the gauntlet for Star Trek: The Next Generation. It serves as a fitting reminder that Picard and his crew are still amateurs when it comes to space exploration. They don’t even win the day – they suffer “a bloody nose” before limping away from their strange new opponents to lick their wounds. For a crew that never seemed to sweat before, who never seemed like they were under pressure, this is a shocking development.

More interestingly, it’s something unknown in a universe that has become far too familiar. Three of the four episodes leading into Q Who? ended with the crew accepting that there were some things they’d never fully understand or comprehend, and – while it’s unlikely this was intentional – it seems like a nice bit of thematic foreshadowing rather than haphazard plotting. For the first season-and-a-half of the show, it seemed like the Enterprise was always dealing with the familiar, always in control of the situation.

With Q Who?, everything is put into perspective.

Borg to death...

Borg to death…

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