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Star Trek: Discovery

ALIAS – ‘A Dark Turn’ (2×17 – Review)

In 2018, I began my first deep-dive TV review series looking at JJ Abrams’ Alias, which ran from 2001-2006. This year, I’ll be looking at Season Two’s 22-episode run in detail…

If you really think about it, everything that happens in A Dark Turn has almost certainly been inevitable since the beginning of Season Two. It’s perhaps why the title of the episode is so heavy in foreshadowing.

The fact we probably just didn’t want to believe how A Dark Turn ends is a testament to how well both the writers and Lena Olin have crafted the character of Irina Derevko since she first truly appeared in The Enemy Walks In. The first third of Season Two was almost entirely devoted to Irina’s introduction, her relationship with both Sydney and Jack, and how her unexpected returns exposes and decrypts Alias’ exploration of the dysfunctional, nuclear American family. Irina is played ambiguously on the page but Olin, with some skill, drew out of her dialogue shades that Jennifer Garner and Victor Garber both played with, and likely influenced later scripts in the season. She could be mercurial and sinister on one hand, while sensitive, regretful and caring on the other.

This was, undoubtedly, in many senses a deliberate move on the part of J.J. Abrams and his staff. We were never supposed to know quite where Irina’s loyalties lay. She could never entirely be trusted, given she surrenders control of what appears to be a major global organised crime network to become a CIA prisoner. We knew she always had an agenda. Yet Season Two plays with the idea that maybe, on some level, Irina turned herself in because she *did* care about Jack, she did love Sydney, and she regretted many of the choices she made decades earlier when her KGB cover was blown. Season Two inevitably saw her character thaw the hearts of both Sydney and Jack, inveigling her way into their lives and emotions, to the point she was in danger of becoming not just an ally, but someone we might actually start rooting for.

A Dark Turn is the reminder we needed. Of course Irina is a villain. She was always a villain. She will always *be* a villain. Alias is just very good at the emotional long con because, over Season Two, we had almost talked ourselves out of this being true.

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We need to talk about STAR TREK: VOYAGER

So I have a confession to make about Star Trek: Voyager. I have never sat down and watched, in its entirety, the last two seasons of the show. I didn’t watch them back when they aired around 20 years ago. I haven’t watched them since. I’ve watched some, here and there, but not all.

Technically, as a result, despite being a self-professed Trekkie and fan since I was a child, I’m not a Star Trek completist. This isn’t the case with any other show, either. I’ve seen all of Enterprise, for example. I’m up to date with Discovery. So why Voyager? Those episodes have been around for decades yet I have never felt the urge to revisit them. I think it goes back to my problematic relationship with the third spin-off series to Gene Roddenberry’s initial vision, one I’ve had ever since 1995.

I’m discussing this now as Voyager is, this week, a princely quarter of a century old which a) is fantastic and b) is terrifying for someone who grew up with it. Voyager first debuted when I was 12, almost 13 years old. I had discovered Star Trek on TV probably around a year earlier, having wore out VHS copies of The Search for Spock and The Wrath of Khan while in single digits. I liked The Next Generation. I already *loved* Deep Space NineVoyager, therefore, I greeted with enormous excitement. This was back in the days when in the UK they would release two episodes of a season in VHS tapes for DS9 & VOY every few weeks (these would cost more than a monthly Netflix subscription does now) and I bought them religiously up until, I would say, probably about the end of Season 4. Then something happened.

Well, two things happened. Firstly, this was around 1998 and as a sixteen year old leaving school, I was beginning to discover that being a Star Trek fan openly wasn’t doing me any good if I ever wanted to cop off with a girl. Secondly, I realised that I didn’t actually *like* Voyager all that much, and maybe I never had. Not in comparison to DS9, which aside from The X-Files and Babylon-5 around this point was the show I had lived and breathed during the 90’s. I started to realise that, a few episodes aside, I never found Voyager at all compelling.

New Guest Article: STAR TREK: PICARD – COUNTDOWN #1 (Review)

Every now and then I contribute to other websites writing about film, TV, media and sometimes comics, as in this piece for Pop Culture & Comics.

In my first piece for the site, I look at the first issue of Star Trek: PicardCountdown, the new IDW Publishing tie-in comic which directly leads into the upcoming, much anticipated CBS All Access (or Amazon Prime) show launching in January.

Below is a sneak preview…

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Pt VII – ‘The Word is Given’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

In a very real sense, the space battle that cuts right into the end of Act One, and roughly the mid-section, of The Wrath of Khan is the first true example in Star Trek of the kind of space combat we would witness in subsequent TV series and movies even up to the present day, as of writing, with the huge space combat sequence in Star Trek: Discovery’s Season Two finale.

The Wrath of Khan, as we have discussed, defined itself visually and formally on the British nautical structure, given Nicholas Meyer’s love of the Horatio Hornblower series. Yet before this, Gene Roddenberry’s Original Series had framed the Enterprise’s encounters with dangerous alien life forms often more as a camera-shaking face off as opposed to a true battle of wits.

James T. Kirk most often fought the bad guy in close quarter combat, as indeed he did Khan Noonien Singh in Space Seed, and the Enterprise rarely felt the consequences of space combat. The Wrath of Khan changed that when Meyer pitched the central encounter between the Enterprise and the hijacked USS Reliant as a World War Two submarine battle in space, particularly come the battle later in the Mutara Nebula. Their first skirmish ends up as an ambush, the lawless pirates taking on the nation-sailing frigate, and it’s one the Enterprise barely manages to escape from.

Crucially, Meyer ensures Kirk’s first encounter with Khan is not an anaemic one. As befits the overarching themes of loss and discovery, death and rebirth, the Reliant’s ambush takes its personal as well as metaphorical toll. People die. And for once, defying the classic Star Trek trope of the ‘redshirt’, we *feel* it.

Scene By Scene: STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN – Part V – ‘First Best Destiny’

As voted for on Twitter by followers, I will be analysing Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan scene by scene in this multi-part exploration of Nicholas Meyer’s 1982 sequel…

Running through the broader themes in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan of life and death, birth and rebirth, is the concept of destiny. The idea that James T. Kirk and Khan Noonien Singh are on a pre-determined, fate-driven course.

Following the reveal of Khan and the establishment of the Enterprise crew of foundling trainees, not to mention the Reliant’s mission and the Genesis project on space station Regula 1, Nicholas Meyer works to begin tying these disparate threads together and stitch Kirk and Khan toward their inevitable confrontation. Carol and David Marcus begin to suspect that the crew of the Reliant—now taken over by Khan and his genetically superior Botany Bay crew—have more sinister motivations for taking control of the Genesis device, as communicated by a robotic, we know to be controlled Pavel Chekov. The order is not just political but personal, given Chekov lies that Kirk is behind such an order. “Scientists have always been pawns of the military!” decries a quite paranoid David, even as Carol refuses to believe quite what Chekov is suggesting.

It further underlines a persistent theme in Meyer’s script: his fascination with quite what Starfleet actually *is*, given how loosely defined the organisation was in Star Trek lore up to this point. Even before the Reliant is seized by Khan, David is suspicious of Starfleet’s motives as a naval, militaristic agency, and Chekov’s lies only further deepen that suspicion. “Starfleet has kept the peace for a hundred years. I cannot and will not subscribe to your interpretation of this event.” Carol asserts, convinced that Starfleet’s motivations are about the science, not its nefarious applications. Meyer’s lens is informed by 20th century history, nevertheless. He is fully aware of how Robert Oppenheimer believed he was building a weapon to defeat fascism, only to find the H-bomb corrupted into a terrifying agent of prevention at the cost of millions of innocent lives.

The Wrath of Khan pointedly attempts to wrap up these bigger political questions about Starfleet’s operation around Kirk and Khan’s mutual destiny. Their mutually assured destruction.

New Podcast Guest Appearance: Trek FM’s Primitive Culture #67 – ‘Everyone’s a Captain’

Hosted by author Duncan Barrett, Primitive Culture is a Star Trek history and culture podcast we co-created in 2017 on the Trek FM networking, looking at the 50+ year old franchise through the lens of our world today.

In this episode, Duncan and I discuss the difference between revivals and reboots on television, particularly in Star Trek – how The Motion Picture revived the 60’s TV series and the manner it did so in the late 1970’s, through to how it filtered down into the 80’s, quite how JJ Abrams rebooted the franchise in the late 2000’s, and whether Discovery and Picard fall into these camps.

A good, free-ranging discussion, this one, with lots of discussion about Trek old *and* new, with some speculation along the way…

New Podcast Guest Appearance: Trek FM’s Primitive Culture – ‘Eating Our Own Tail’

Hosted by author Duncan Barrett, Primitive Culture is a Star Trek history and culture podcast we co-created in 2017 on the Trek FM networking, looking at the 50+ year old franchise through the lens of our world today.

In this episode, Duncan and I tackle fan service in Star Trek and indeed beyond, how Star Trek: Discovery was compromised by fans finding it difficult to detach from their passion, and the growing idea of fandom losing perspective.

In many ways, this serves as a ‘sequel’ episode to my Discovery discussion last month with Zach Moore on Standard Orbit, so it might be worth heading over and checking that out, then having this for dessert!

TV, Book, Movie & Podcast Roundup – May 2019

Welcome to June! Because there’s not enough useless information floating around on the internet, I thought I would update readers of this blog as to what I’ve watched/read over the previous month, each month, in the form of TV, movies and books.

Some of this I will have reviewed on Cultural Conversation but others I’ve just been watching for enjoyment with Mrs Black.

Let’s start this month with TV…

Star Trek: The Q Conflict (#2/3)

Early on in the second issue of The Q Conflict the key reason for this crossover gimmick becomes apparent: an opportunity to mix and match the Star Trek crews.

You almost feel a little embarrassed that Enterprise was left out of this saga, as it perhaps says more about the underwhelming nature of many of its characters than writers Scott & David Tipton might have at first envisaged (Discovery is still new enough to get away with not being here and has had a bounty of comic tie-in material from IDW Publishing lately). The Tipton’s have fun replicating the school yard problem of trying to choose your football teams (American or in our British case, 5-a-side) and someone being left with the two dunces nobody *really* wants but will have to take. In this case, that honour goes to Quark and Harry Kim. Quark you can understand but how embarrassing for Harry!

Once you can accept the whole point of The Q Conflict is to see a mis-matched team up between the legendary Star Trek characters of the 60’s and 90’s, you can start to climb aboard what is it trying to do.

New Podcast Guest Appearance: Trek FM’s Standard Orbit – ‘TOS Season 0.5’

Hosted by Zach Moore, Ken Tripp and Hayley Stoddart, Standard Orbit is part of the Trek FM podcast network and dedicated to covering all aspects of the original 1960’s series, Star Trek.

With the recent arrival of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, which heavily featured elements of The Original Series including key characters, Zach and I discuss my assertion that Discovery S2 is essentially ‘TOS Season 0.5’, picking through the characters, narratives and unpicking where they do and don’t work.

Anyone with an interest in Discovery, or Star Trek broadly, you’ll find plenty to enjoy here.