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Star Trek: Voyager – Muse (Review)

In its own way, Muse marks the end of an era for Star Trek: Voyager, as Joe Menosky’s last solo script for the series.

To be fair, this is not Menosky’s last script credit on the series. Menosky would collaborate with Brannon Braga on the season-bridging two-parter Unimatrix Zero, Part I and Unimatrix Zero, Part II. In fact, those episodes have themes that play directly into Menosky’s interests; the two-parter is a story about dreams and narratives, about worlds that exist beyond the literal and the concrete. More than that, Menosky would work on the writing staff of Star Trek: Discovery, contributing the script to Lethe, one of the season’s stand-out episodes that was also about narratives – albeit internalised ones.

Dropping the mask.

However, Muse still feels like it marks the end of an era. Menosky had been a fixture of the Berman era of Star Trek dating back to the fourth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, making his debut with Legacy and arguably making his biggest impression with Darmok early the following season. Menosky’s involvement with the franchise ebbed and flowed in the intervening years, but his influence was often felt. Indeed, Menosky even contributed a handful of scripts and stories to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, including the teleplay for the underrated Dramatis Personae.

With Menosky’s departure from Voyager at the end of the sixth season, Brannon Braga would become the longest-serving writer working on the Star Trek franchise. His tenure on the television franchise would surpass that of Ronald D. Moore, and of any writer who hadn’t spanned the gap from the end of the original Star Trek to the early seasons of The Next Generation, with the arguable exception of producer Rick Berman. As such, Muse feels very much like the end of an era. It marks the departure of one of the guiding light of the Star Trek franchise, albeit one often overlooked or ignored.

Storyteller.

Muse is an episode that speaks to Menosky’s key interests within the Star Trek franchise, the idea of Star Trek as something akin to a modern mythology. More than any other writer on Star Trek, Menosky is invested in stories that are fundamentally about stories. His influence on Voyager is more subtle than that of Michael Piller, Jeri Taylor or Brannon Braga, but can felt in the recurring idea that Voyager itself is a Delta Quadrant myth. More than any of the other Star Trek series, Voyager feels like it is a story about a collection of archetypes rather than characters.

Menosky first articulated this idea in the closing scene of his otherwise forgettable script for False Profits, but reinforced it in episodes like Distant Origin, Living Witness and Blink of an Eye. It could reasonably be argued that this idea became part of the show’s identity, to the point that it can even be traced through episodes not explicitly credited to Menosky, like Live Fast and Prosper. It seems appropriate that this idea should serve as the central theme of Muse, an episode that might be read as a thesis statement on Menosky’s approach to the franchise.

Acting out.

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Star Trek: Voyager – Manoeuvres (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.

It is weird to think that the much-maligned Kazon provided perhaps the closest thing that Star Trek: Voyager had to a long-form story arc.

That probably says more about Voyager than it does about the Kazon. In storytelling terms, Voyager was firmly episodic. There were some loose threads that would span and connect multiple episodes, but the bulk of the show was comprised of very traditional “done in one” adventures. It seems fair to observe that Voyager represented something of a backslide for the franchise. It was much more episodic than Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but also less interested in long-form storytelling than the later years of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

"This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!"

“This is still more enjoyable than Tattoo!”

One suspects that the Kazon arc running through the second season had something to do with this storytelling choice. Michael Piller pushed really hard to make the Kazon a recurring threat to Voyager and to place them at the centre of the second season. As a result, they become a loose thread that runs through several of the season’s “big” episodes. They place a traitor on board Voyager in Alliances. They provided Tom Paris with a character arc culminating in Investigations. They provided the season-ending cliffhanger in Basics, Part I.

The arc was not well-received, whether by the fans or by the staff. It is not too difficult to understand why. Even before considering the quality of the arc itself – or the storytelling involved – the Kazon are hardly the most compelling Star Trek villains. Allowing for that, it seemed like the writing staff had no real idea how to serialise a story arc across a season, making all manner of clumsy mistakes along the way. The arc never gathered momentum and it never paid off, which are very real problems when trying something that ambitious.

Either you Kazon... or you be gone...

Either you Kazon… or you be gone…

Manoeuvres effectively kicks off the arc. Although the Kazon had appeared in Initiations earlier in the second season, Manoeuvres features the first reappearance of Seska and Cullah since State of Flux midway through the first season. The episode is perhaps the strongest of the “Kazon” shows, with a sense of momentum driving the first half of the script. However, things rather quickly come off the rails in the second half of the story. Already, the production team’s inexperience with serialised storytelling is showing.

Manoeuvres is perhaps as good as the Kazon ever got. It is nowhere near good enough.

So that's why they call them raiders...

So that’s why they call them raiders…

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The X-Files – Milagro (Review)

This July, we’re taking a trip back in time to review the sixth season of The X-Files and the third (and final) season of Millennium.

The teaser establishes the mood quite quickly. It is a rather striking opening sequence for an episode of The X-Files, focusing on a writer staring at a blank page. The sequence cuts through time as the writer searches for inspiration, trying to take his cue from the index cards helpfully arranged on the wall. Eventually, the writer makes a grand gesture. He reaches into his chest, and pulls out his heart. It is a very effective opening sequence, one that makes it clear that Milagro will not be a normal episode of The X-Files.

The sequence also makes it clear that Milagro will not will it be a subtle piece of television. The teaser is not a particularly elegant metaphor, but it is an effective one. What is writing but tearing out a piece of yourself? Sometimes you have to wear your heart on your sleeve; sometimes you have to put it on the page. The teaser to Milagro is a very earnest piece of work from Chris Carter, a clear acknowledgement that what follows is a deeply personal piece of work.

Burning heart...

Burning heart…

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The X-Files – Mind’s Eye (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.

Likely as a result of the peculiar factors around its production, the fifth season of The X-Files is a rather strange cocktail.

There are only twenty episodes in the season. Seven of those are mythology episodes – Redux I, Redux II, Christmas Carol, Emily, Patient X, The Red and the Black, The End. The rest of the season devotes considerable space to experimentation and adventurous storytelling. Episodes like Unusual Suspects and Travelers take the focus off Mulder and Scully. Shows like The Post-Modern Prometheus and Bad Blood are experimental in their storytelling. Episodes like Chinga and The Pine Bluff Variant focus almost exclusively on one or other of the leading duo.

Locked out...

Locked out…

Even the remainder are not what might be described as typical “monster of the week” stories. Both Detour and Folie a Deux focus on the relationship between Mulder and Scully as much as the monster at the heart of the story. Kill Switch is an episode written by a special guest writing team, one that defines itself by how odd it feels. All Souls is a meditation on Scully’s faith. The fifth season doesn’t really have a lot of room left for the classic episodic no-frills-attached “monster of the week” stories.

Which is part of what makes Mind’s Eye so fascinating. In any other season, Mind’s Eye would stand as a pretty solid example of the form – a pretty solid “this is what The X-Files does” episode of television like Pusher or Leonard Betts before it. However, the fifth season is so strange and weird in structure and form that Mind’s Eye stands out all the more. The best of the season’s straight-down-the-middle standalone stories, Mind’s Eye throws the rest of the season into contrast. It demonstrates just how odd the fifth season actually is.

A bloody disaster...

A bloody disaster…

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Millennium – Jose Chung’s “Doomsday Defense” (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.

Well, all’s well that ends well. Though that’s easy for Shakespeare to say – he’ll be around for another millennium. But what of our own millennium? Will it all end well? No one of course can know, but that of course doesn’t stop anyone from guessing. And the nature of these predictions always revolve around the usual suspects: salvation and/or self–satisfaction. With that in mind, I humbly add my own prophecy of what the dawn of the new millennium shall bring forth: one thousand more years of the same, old crap.

– Jose Chung

The write stuff...

The write stuff…

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The X-Files – Sanguinarium (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.

Appropriately enough, Sanguinarium is a bloody mess of an episode.

To be fair, it’s not a total write-off. There are some interesting ideas here, and the episode’s willingness to indulge in trashy horror is almost endearing… to a point. However, Sanguinarium often serves to illustrate just how much care and consideration is necessary to make an episode of The X-Files work. It is a very effective counter-example, an episode that demonstrates it takes more than just pulpy horror to make an episode work. Sanguinarium is almost as revolting and as graphic as Home, but it lack all the little elements that made the earlier episode work.

The doctor will see you now...

The doctor will see you now…

It’s cheesy instead of wry. It’s gratuitous instead of simply hyperactive. It’s blunt instead of subversive. Sanguinarium is not a misfire to the same extent as – say – Teso Dos Bichos or Excelsis Dei. It has a few ill-judged elements, but it’s more clumsy than offensive. It might be a bit much to suggest that there’s a classic episode buried just beneath the surface of Sanguinarium, but it seems fair to say that there is a much better episode somewhere in here. One suspects that pressure behind the scenes simply made it tougher to bring that episode to the fore.

Nevertheless, Sanguinarium is an interesting failure, if not quite a satisfying episode.

Blood work...

Blood work…

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Star Trek – Return to Tomorrow (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.

Return to Tomorrow is similar to By Any Other Name in a number of ways.

Most superficially, it’s an episode about aliens in human bodies, who find themselves learning (or, in this case, remembering) how to appreciate all that mankind has to offer. The plot similarity is rather broad, but it seems strange that By Any Other Name and Return to Tomorrow would be produced right after one another, and that no significant effort would be made to space them apart on initial broadcast. (Both aired in February of 1968.)

Leonard Nimoy only gets to smile once a year, so the show makes the most of it...

Leonard Nimoy only gets to smile once a year, so the show makes the most of it…

However, there are more fundamental and underlying similarities between Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name. Both are episodes that are very much engaged with the underlying philosophy of the franchise, particularly concerning humanity’s place in the universe. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that Return to Tomorrow and By Any Other Name both work much better as statements of philosophical intent than they do as stories in their own right.

Co-written by Gene Roddenberry, Return to Tomorrow is a rather generic piece of television, but one that feels like a considered statement of the franchise’s central themes.

"Things are going to be a little different around here..."

“Things are going to be a little different around here…”

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