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Ash Vs Evil Dead Season 3

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Ash vs Evil Dead is, for fans, a kind of pinch-yourself-to-make-sure-you’re-not-dreaming experience. A continuation of the beloved cult classic Evil Dead trilogy originally directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Drag Me to Hell), and starring the mighty Bruce Campbell (My Name is Bruce, Bubba Ho-Tep) as the titular Ash Williams; the series overflows with goofy charm, graphic violence and absurdly cathartic humour.

AVED has now hit its third season and FilmInk managed to catch the first five episodes (of ten) and can happily report that watching Campbell and company shred deadites and chew scenery has lost none of its lustre. In fact if anything season 3 seems a little more focused than previous entries, possibly because the action remains mostly localised to Ash’s hometown of Elk Grove, Michigan (actually located in New Zealand – where fellow AVED superfan, Travis Johnson, recently visited).

Ash now runs his dad’s old hardware store – adding dildos to the shop’s inventory and shooting cheesy TV ads for publicity – and basks in the fame of being a small town hero instead of “Ashy Slashy” the murderous pariah. Of course shit goes bad quickly and Ash is forced to re-team with Pablo (Ray Santiago) and Kelly (Dana DeLorenzo) to face down evil in the form of returning Dark One, Ruby (Lucy Lawless) and deal the additional burden of fatherhood, as he meets the daughter-he-didn’t-know-about, Brandy (Arielle Carver-O’Neil).

If that all sounds like kind of a lot – especially for a show whose episodes run under half an hour a piece – you’re not wrong. In fact the premiere episode, “Family”, groans under the weight of the heavy plot load and skews the comedy a little too close to weightless slapstick at times. Happily this appears to be the exception and not the rule, as second episode “Booth Three” features an emphasis on mood building before everything kicks off, and showcases an inspired semen gag that rivals season 2’s gross-out episode, “The Morgue”.

The following three episodes “Apparently Dead”, “Unfinished Business” and “Baby Proof” bring the series barrelling towards an epic confrontation that, unfortunately, we haven’t been able to watch yet – but if the first half of the season is anything to go by, it’s going to be a big one.

AVED season 3 gives you more of what you want, but also takes the time to ruminate, however briefly, on themes of parenthood and legacy. Bruce Campbell is, as always, majestic playing the role that made him famous but the supporting cast are also strong, now comfortable in their roles, with Ray Santiago in particular giving Pablo nuance, elevating him above mere sidekick status.

Ultimately Ash vs Evil Dead is a gleefully loopy fever dream, a hugely entertaining adventure and a love letter to the fans. That letter is bound in human flesh and inked in blood, naturally, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

 
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Everything Sucks!

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They say high school is the best time of your life – except for when you’re living it. As the title of Netflix’s new high school ten-episode series suggests, Everything Sucks!, set in the mid-‘90s in Boring, Oregon, follows freshman student Luke O’Neil (Jahi Di’Allo Winston – Proud Mary, The Upside) and his AV club friends as they join forces with the drama club to make a movie. It’s nostalgic, it’s all that and a bag of chips, and it sets out to answer the question: has high school always sucked this much?

Turns out, it has. Everything Sucks! is full of first-relationship drama, coming-out drama, over-dramatic drama students – basically, all the drama you remember from high school and could want from a teen show. And while much of this makes you cringe, it’s surprisingly not in an overdramatic, Riverdale-esque way; rather, it’s so realistic that it takes you back to the days when you were sitting at the lunch tables, cringing at the drama yourself. Things are kept light, however, by our absolute gem of a main character: Luke O’Neil is serious, yet joyful; funny, but dramatic, and is somehow the only teenage character within our traditional band of misfits and losers with his feet somewhat planted on the ground, even as he tackles first loves and first heartbreaks.

But the others have got nothing but drama on their mind. Quiet principal’s daughter Kate (Peyton Kennedy) is struggling to come to terms with her sexuality; Emaline and Oliver (Sydney Sweeney and Elijah Stevenson) are the Shakespearean leaders of the drama club who have hit puberty way sooner than everyone else, McQuaid (Rio Mangini) is nothing but a pessimist, and Tyler (Quinn Liebling) is the most awkward, Showgirls-loving high school boy you’ve ever seen. Put all of these people in a room and make them work on a highly ambitious student film together, and you’re sure to butt heads and change lives.

With relatable characters and interesting-enough drama, Everything Sucks! is worth the watch – its short episode length is a saving grace, too; any longer would be too much. The only problem may be figuring out who this is for: packed full of Tamagotchis, Hi-C and VHSes, Everything Sucks! is chock full of nostalgia that may not always translate or come across as relatable to a younger, high-school aged audience. Yet the show is neither deep nor adult enough to draw a wide older audience, being written much more like a young adult’s show. Hopefully the show will find its audience along the way – after all, high school is all about figuring out who you’re meant to be.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E15: “Will You Take My Hand?”

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The Federation-Klingon War is nearing its end, as Klingon battlecruiser zero in on the planet Earth. The Federation’s only hope? The USS Discovery, enacting a plan for a surprise victory under the command of Captain Philippa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). When the price of victory proves too high, however, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) may be forced to betray her captain a second time.

Star Trek: Discovery comes to a temporary conclusion with this first season finale, although fans will be comforted by the show-stopping cliffhanger that promises a second in the future. The season-long story arc is by-and-large brought to a tidy conclusion that should mostly please most viewers; anybody left not enjoying it at this point likely didn’t enjoy the entire series. Sure, there are problems with the episode, but they are relatively minor in contrast to the satisfying way the story comes to an end. The series’ strongest asset from episode 1 has been Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance as Michael Burnham, and she gets plenty of strong material with which to work. Discovery has played with conventions of Star Trek quite a lot, and while I’ve chafed with some the decision to base the series almost exclusively from Burnham’s point of view has delivered tremendous dividends.

If one overlooks the slightly preposterous cliffhanger that led into this episode, there’s a remarkable amount of pulp fun to be had here. Fans of Michelle Yeoh will have an absolute ball, as will fans of the inexperienced and enthusiastic Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman). It occasionally over-steps its mark – there’s a string of rather sleazy moments in a Klingon nightclub that the episode could really do without – but ultimately this feels like a very traditional episode of Star Trek. More than that, it feels like a franchise statement of purpose; it just feels a little weird that it took 15 episodes for the series to get there. There is even a beautiful little cameo for the longer-term Star Trek fans in the shape of Clint Howard, who as a child actor played the alien threatening the original Enterprise in 1966’s “The Corbomite Maneuver”.

In the end, Season 1 of Star Trek: Discovery finishes on a much firmer footing than when it began. You can see the traditional Star Trek ensemble beginning to form, although I hope Season 2 spends a little bit of time fleshing out Lieutenant Detmer (Emily Coutts) and Lieutenant Commander Airiam (Sara Mitich). Both characters have been there on the bridge and in the crew mess hall since the beginning and seem ripe for interesting stories and characters. I also hope we are done with the Klingon Empire for now: the redesign was poorly thought-out, and their ongoing civil drama during the series’ early episodes really worked to drag things down.

Discovery has carved itself a worthy place alongside its fellow Star Trek series, despite what felt like some very poor and uneven episodes during the first half of its run. Its gradual improvement – the story shifting to more interesting places, and its characters finding some consistency – has been wonderful to see. Anyone who abandoned the series last year should absolutely give it a second viewing. Anyone who’s enjoyed the whole ride needs no such encouragement. They’re probably rewatching the first episode already.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E14: “The War Without, the War Within”

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The USS Discovery has successfully returned to its own universe, only for the crew to find the Klingons have almost completely overrun the Federation. While plans are drawn up for the final offensive, within Discovery the consequences of recent events take their toll.

With its sojourn into the Mirror Universe complete – at least for now – Star Trek: Discovery returns to its original storyline, bringing the entire season full circle to the war between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. It is a war that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) helped to start, and it is becoming evidently – and satisfyingly – clear that it is going to be down to Burnham to help finish it. That is all presumably going to go down in next week’s season finale. That leaves this penultimate episode to essentially do some tidying up.

It’s an episode packed with character moments, and on the whole they are great ones. The big emotional beats come with Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), recently revealed as a surgically constructed Klingon sleeper agent but now with his own personality permanently restored. He must face Stamets (Anthony Rapp) after murdering his partner. He must face Burnham after almost murdering her. The best scene of the episode comes when he arrives in the mess hall, expecting to eat alone – only to be greeted by Ensign Tilly (Mary Wiseman), who refuses to abandon him despite what has occurred. It’s a beautifully moment for Tilly, and emblematic of how much more smoothly the series is handling its characters in the season’s second half. In her early episodes she was a victim of same kind of awkward writing that made viewers of the 1980s hate Star Trek: The Next Generation punching bag Wesley Crusher; she feels far more rounded and focused here. It’s a shift that is visible in most of the regular and returning cast.

The other major element of this episode is Terran Emperor Phillipa Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh), rescued from her own universe by Burnham and now an unwilling guest of the Federation. While it is always a pleasure to see Yeoh on screen, the inclusion of Georgiou in the context she is presented here stretches credulity. By the end of the episode it stretches further still, and would seem to require intelligent and highly competent people to act like complete idiots for the sake of a dramatic cliffhanger. It will require a wait until the season finale to see how this evil Georgiou’s story plays out, but it is not looking promising.

“The War Within, the War Without” does feel like a let-down after the high drama of the previous few episodes, but that is ultimately more a factor of those episode’s climactic nature than any specific shortfall on this episode’s part. It is an act of re-centering the story and setting up the climax. In that regard it does a tremendous job. The path through Discovery’s maiden voyage has been a shaky one, but it is important to celebrate and applaud how effectively it is reaching its end.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E13: What’s Past is Prologue

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With Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) revealed as a native of the Terran Empire universe – one who has manipulated the entire USS Discovery crew to get home to his own reality – Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) must ally with the Terran Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh) to stop him from overthrowing the Empire and taking an invasion fleet back to Burnham’s own universe.

Star Trek: Discovery is certainly packing the quality into the second half of the season, with “What’s Past is Prologue” delivering another top-notch episode packed with action, strong moments of character, and hugely rewarding pay-offs for viewers that have stuck it out through the whole season. The episode is almost entirely climax, but it’s a 45-minute climax that feels genuinely well earned. It does not simply come with a ‘fist-in-the-air’ thrilling moment for the fans; it comes with several.

What seems particularly impressive is how the episode plays on elements from the season’s earlier, much shakier episodes. There is more than one callback to particular moments or themes, most effectively a brief scene between Burnham and Georgiou in which two women – each having lost the other in their own universe – both hold ID pins of the woman they lost. I recall a huge sense of disappointment when Discovery’s original set-up – two women – was disrupted and replaced by one woman working for a white middle-aged man. In that moment it’s tragically clear that the same white middle-aged man destroyed them both. Whether intentional or accidental, it feels like a potent moment.

The episode also allows the Discovery crew their moment to shine, since while Burnham is off fighting Lorca they are tasked with the parallel mission of saving literally every alternate universe in existence. It really shows how well these characters are now working on screen. Saru (Doug Jones) displays an appropriate sense of intelligence, bravery and level-headedness for his rank and position. Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is a much warmer and more accessible character. Tilly (Mary Wiseman) feels less grating and much more confident. Really it’s only the latter of these changes that feels intentional; the other two really feel like a writer’s room slowly homing on what makes the characters work and what pulls them back. It’s a process I’d have rather seen play out before the series was produced, but it is fantastic simply that it has happened.

Star Trek: Discovery is feeling like a much stronger series towards the end than it did at the beginning. It isn’t simply a matter of early episodes setting up revelations in later installments. The things that worked the best in this 2017 episodes have been retained and improved, and the bits that struggled or even flat-out irritated have been removed, pared away or at least temporarily sidelined. With two episodes to go, I have my fingers crossed that the series can jump from this current creative high to deliver something genuinely spectacular to keep the audience enthused until Season 2 begins.

 
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Altered Carbon Season 1

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Life is cheap when it becomes a less finite resource.

That’s one of the central tenets driving Altered Carbon, Netflix’s new prestige series that’s looking to occupy a similar niche in the cultural ecosystem as Game of Thrones, Westworld, The Expanse, and American Gods. Like those shows, it’s a big, beautifully designed expensive genre effort that’s steeped in sex, violence and mature themes. Like Westworld and American Gods in particular, it’s also digging into some heavy themes and intriguing ideas that are sometimes overwhelmed by the ubiquitous blood ‘n’ boobs, and sometimes foregrounded in jarringly obvious ways when the show worries we’re not paying enough attention. When it’s more concerned with telling its story rather than justifying its existence, though, it’s hell on wheels.

In the far future (’bout five centuries hence) first imagined by author Richard Morgan in his 2002 novel of the same title, humanity has colonised the stars, and technology allows human consciousness to be recorded, downloaded, and transmitted. This makes immortality an attainable, if prohibitively expensive, goal. It also makes people less attached to their physical forms – called “sleeves” – since the human form can be upgraded, repaired and replaced. The very rich have become the very old. Called “methuselahs” or “meths”, their hugely expanded lifespans have allowed them to concentrate obscene hoards of wealth and power – and distanced them to a nigh-unimaginable degree from the hoi polloi toiling further down the societal ziggurat.

Joel Kinnaman as Takeshi Kovacs

Our guide into this world is Takeshi Kovacs (Joel Kinnaman for the most part, but also Will Yun Lee and Byron Mann in flashbacks – a man can wear many faces in this world), street rat turned elite soldier turned revolutionary turned criminal, decanted into a new body some 250 years after he was last killed at the behest of ludicrously rich Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) for an important job: solve Bancroft’s own murder.

Naturally, a man of Bancroft’s wealth and privilege survived his own shooting thanks to a wireless digital backup of his persona, but he has some hours missing and wants the mystery resolved. Our man Kovacs must negotiate both the rarified and decadent world of the methuselahs and the dirty and dangerous streets of Bay City (future San Francisco) in the course of his mission, crossing paths and swords will all manner of weird characters and situations along the way.

It’s a noir/hard boiled pastiche, of course, and Kinnaman makes for a pretty great Chandler-esque hero, doggedly pursuing the truth while wrestling with his own bloody past of violence and loss. Showrunner Laeta Kalogridis smartly expands the book’s first person point of view, adding new characters for Kovacs to interact with, such as Vernon Elliott (Ato Essandoh), a former soldier who Watsons along with Kovacs’ hard-punching Holmes, and expanding others, such as Poe (Chris Conner), an artificial intelligence who runs the hotel Kovacs uses as his headquarters and who presents in the form of writer Edgar Allen Poe.

Atoh Essandoh and Chris Conner as Victor and Poe

Also in the mix is cop Kristin Ortega (Martha Higareda), who has her own reasons for tagging along with Kovacs; criminal thug Dimitri (a nigh-unrecognisable Tahmo Penikett), who deploys sadistic violence in the service of unknown masters; Miriam (Kristin Lehman), Bancroft’s duplicitous and possibly guilty wife, and a whole host of corrupt cops, shifty lawyers, black market entrepreneurs, sex workers, and cannon fodder for our guy to interrogate, intimidate, and frequently obliterate.

Yes, there’s a lot of furious action in this one – one of the key elements that sets author Morgan apart from a lot of other heirs to the cyberpunk mantle is his unwavering appreciation of a savage smackdown. Altered Carbon has plenty of imaginatively-framed fight scenes and delights in exploring the possibilities inherent in a world where artificially enhanced fighters know that death is (probably) temporary. The ethical implications thereof get a good run-through, too; flesh is very much treated as a commodity in this world, with married gladiators murdering each other for the promise of an upgraded sleeve at one point, and at others, indentured prostitutes letting methuselah johns live out their sickest fantasies. Humans are resources to be exploited in the most horrible and debased ways, and while the immediate visceral effects might shock, its the inherent structural power imbalance the series depicts that continues to trouble after viewing, especially when you contemplate how well it mirrors our own lives, mired as we are in late stage capitalism.

Which is to say that Altered Carbon is at times a challenging work, but the violence and the sex is generally in service to the themes the show is exploring – even if it’s simultaneously indulging our more atavistic impulses at the same time. Indeed, the show works better when it’s grappling with its more philosophical themes through the action of the narrative; it’s actually when characters, such as revolutionary Quellcrist Falconer (Renée Elise Goldsberry), a figure from Kovacs’ past, are giving voice to their philosophical musings that it feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to justify its excesses by laying on a too-thick veneer of respectability.

These thematic concerns are pretty common to cyberpunk media, though, and Altered Carbon is definitely and defiantly a cyberpunk work, drenched in neon and smoke, steam and rain, the high tech and the low life codified by William Gibson back in the day and now arguably more popular than ever. It’s an absolutely gorgeous series and totally looks the business, helped in large part by Netflix’s willingness to throw shedloads of money at the project. The obvious visual template is, of course, Blade Runner, but let’s face facts – complaining that a cyberpunk series looks like Blade Runner is like grousing that there are too many people wearing hats in a Western. The show never feels small or set-constrained; this is a big universe we’ve been introduced to, and it feels like it.

Hopefully it’s one we’ll return to in the future. There are two further Takeshi Kovacs novels to be mined, but Kalogridis has also left space for further expansion, altering the source material in surprising and interesting ways that bode well for the future. It’s a dark, violent and exploitative future, of course, but we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E12: “Vaulting Ambition”

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Still trapped in a parallel universe, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is brought towards the Terran Empire’s Emperor Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh). While Burnham plays a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with the galaxy’s most powerful woman, back on the Discovery Saru (Doug Jones) fights to unravel the mystery of Lieutenant Tyler (Shazad Latif) while Stamets (Anthony Rapp) searches for a way back to reality.

A surprisingly good episode of Discovery is followed up by an even better one: “Vaulting Ambition” may be the shortest episode of Star Trek since 1974, but it packs a lot of plot developments and drama into its 35 minutes. By the time it ends, characters appear in different lights, events of previous episodes make a lot more sense, and there is now a very clear over-arching storyline to the season – and not necessarily the one you might think. This is almost certainly the most plot-critical episode of Discovery so far.

That also makes it a near-impossible episode to review without ruining it, and it absolutely is an episode worth watching before reading much else about it. Suffice to say it rewards the patience of those viewers that have stuck with the series this far, and it retro-actively repairs a solid proportion of the problems that dogged a lot of the early episodes.

It is wonderful to see Michelle Yeoh back, even if it is as the rather silly Emperor of the Mirror Universe’s Terran Empire. She is such a wonderful and likeable actress that she tends to lift whatever material or role she is given. It is particularly lovely to see her interact with Sonequa Martin-Green again; their interplay back in the series’ first two episodes promised a great relationship that was snatched away from viewers much too soon. It is also a great episode for Doug Jones as Saru: whenever the series backs off from emphasising Saru’s nature as a fearful empathic danger-senser the character sings.

While the episode is great, the series remains incredibly shaky and uneven. While some surprises here explain away a few of the more confusing creative choices of the past few months, they don’t explain away all of them. As we near the end of the first season, however, it is feeling less like the colossal misfire I feared it to be and more like the wobbly and uncertain first seasons that have affected many previous iterations of the franchise. Both The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine got off to deeply rocky starts, and if Discovery can hit its second season running with its already-strong cast, a redefined sense of purpose, and most of the more tiring elements stripped back or removed, this could actually be the series its initial potential suggested.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E11: “The Wolf Inside”

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The USS Discovery is trapped in a mirror universe in which a violent Terran Empire subjugates all other civilizations. While Saru (Doug Jones) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman) attempt to cure Lt Stamets (Anthony Rapp) of his spore-afflicted state, Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Tyler (Shazad Latif) masquerade onboard the mirror universe USS Shenzhou to gain the data needed to return home.

All due credit to writer Lisa Randolph: “The Wolf Inside” picks up an awful lot of tiresome and dramatically weak plot threads and weaves them into something that – for a week, at least – manages to be a genuinely entertaining hour of television. The core problems left from the previous episode do remain, but they feel somewhat mitigated. The mirror universe still feels a very worn-out Star Trek trope in which to place a story, but at least it leads to a solid moral dilemma: keep one’s cover by destroying an anti-Empire rebellion, or try to warn the rebels and risk losing any chance the Discovery getting back to its own reality. That feels authentically Trek in nature; to be honest, quite a lot of moments in this episode do.

Of course, Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) recommends staying undercover and murdering a bunch of aliens, thus re-confirming his status at Star Trek’s worst-ever captain. Isaacs is a fantastic actor, but he really does have to work hard to make Lorca even remotely believable given the way he is written. Much more convincing and enjoyable this week are Saru and Tilly. The latter gets another chance to show intelligence, ambition and drive – she works best when the writing moderates her gushy awkwardness – while Saru seems to act like a proper commanding officer in every scene he’s in. This really is the painful part of Discovery as an ongoing series: the characters are all great, but as a viewer one must roll the dice every week to find out what version of the character they’re going to get.

One long-teased plot development finally hits, likely to nobody’s surprise. It’s a little clumsily revealed and executed, but Randolph does pull it around in the end to a slightly unexpected and satisfying end point. There’s also an end-of-episode cliffhanger that again will likely surprise no one, but has a good chance of entertaining nearly everyone. It’s not the character return we likely wanted, but it’s a return many of us will be happy enough to take.

“The Wolf Inside” ends having ended one somewhat annoying plot thread, but there are still quite a few hanging out there. We’re still stuck in the mirror universe. Stamets is still in weird spore territory. Dr Culber is still in the same state that he was last week. What this episode commendably manages is to pass those problems along, and simply tell a dramatic and mostly enjoyable story around them. In the rollercoaster of quality that is Discovery, this is one of the fun bits of the ride.

 
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Star Trek: Discovery S1E10: “Despite Yourself”

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Please note this review spoils a major event that takes place during the episode.

When the last episode of Star Trek: Discovery aired back in November, a spore drive jump saw the Discovery thrown far outside of where it was supposed to be. Lt Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is in a coma and unable to operate the drive to get them back home. As this 10th episode commences, it soon becomes clear that the ship has been thrown into another universe entirely – one where the Federation does not exist, and a group of alien rebels fight against the brutal Terran Empire.

Indeed, and as most long-term fans of Star Trek predicted, we are back in the Mirror Universe. First depicted in the fun 1960s episode “Mirror, Mirror”, it was brought back and run into the ground in a succession of increasingly ineffective Deep Space Nine episodes before finally getting pushed through the late-series continuity meat grinder of Enterprise. Evil twins have their place in popular culture, but Star Trek has stretched the concept past breaking point so that its return here generated little more in me than an intolerant eye roll.

The episode runs through some cute little parallel universe motions. Ensign Tilly is the captain of the Discovery in the Mirror Universe, essentially for somewhat strained and painful laughs. Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Lorca (Jason Isaacs) embark on a secret mission to gather intelligence on how to get home from the parallel version of the Shenzhou (Burnham’s original ship). Their adventures on the evil Shenzhou feel tiresome and worn out.

This entire Mirror Universe diversion does not work for a pretty simple reason. In the previous incarnations of Star Trek, it was a gleeful little sojourn into a bleak, violent opposite Trek. Characters could get brutally killed. Everyone was untrustworthy and unpleasant. It presented a stark and campy kind of contrast. The problem is that bleak violence, brutal murder and untrustworthy characters have been Discovery’s stock-and-trade for most of the season. There’s no campy contrast to be enjoyed here, just a slightly more unpleasant version of the same thing.

The entire storyline also feels weirdly misplaced at this point. When the Discovery left its own universe, the war with the Klingons had reached a critical stage. Now it’s been abandoned for what looks like at least two more episodes – and at this point there are only five more Discovery episodes for the whole year.

Meanwhile, Tyler’s (Shazad Latif) post-traumatic stress hits breaking point as he realises he is not who he thinks he is. Every viewer has surely worked out the truth by now – most have had it worked out since Tyler first appeared – and all that is left now is the wait for the series itself to try and make a shock reveal of something that is no longer shocking. In his “Manchurian Candidate” state – something the episode even name-checks – Tyler also snaps the neck of Discovery’s chief medical officer Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz). It is a shocking moment, not simply because this does not feel like the sort of thing that happens in Star Trek but because after making such a widely publicised step of giving the franchise its first openly gay couple they have now gone and killed one of them off.

Murdering LGBTI characters is one of the most awful trends in American television, inspiring the “bury your gays” movement less than two years. Culber’s murder puts Discovery in an unwinnable position. Keep him dead, and they have added to a disgraceful trend that absolutely needs to stop. Bring him back to life, and they have turned Tyler’s crime into a cheap narrative stunt. Either way it goes, it will come down to poor writing.

That is Discovery’s core problem. The cast are great. The direction has been strong (including this week’s effort, by Next Generation star and long-term Trek director Jonathan Frakes). By contrast, the writing is all over the place, with inconsistent characters, weak motivations, and an overall tone that just feels crudely violent and regularly adolescent. That last episode in November was pretty good, and pointed to a series heading back up in quality. “Despite Yourself” just pulls it right back down again. There is not another series on television quite so frustrating.

 
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Eat Locals

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Young ne’er-do-well Sebastian (Billy Cook) fronts up in a quiet English country town for what he thinks will be a saucy rendezvous with the cougarish Vanessa (Eve Myles). Instead, he founds himself the unwilling guest of the council of elder vampires who secretly rule the British night. Every 50 years the group – which includes Charlie Cox (Daredevil), Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who), and Vincent Regan (Atlantis) – gets together to hash out territorial disputes and induct new blood into their ranks – hence Sebastian’s presence. This get complicated when an SAS squad, led by a determined and somewhat demented protest (Mackenzie Crook) raid their farmhouse meeting place, determined to put the vampires on ice.

Eat Locals is the directorial debut of actor Jason Flemyng (Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Gemma Bovary), and he’s roped in a bunch of old pals to help him out – fellow Guy Ritchie alumni Dexter Fletcher, Nick Moran, and Nicholas Rowe all make appearances in this brisk horror comedy. It’s clear that Eat Locals wants to be able to stand alongside the likes of An American Werewolf in London, Shaun of the Dead, and Dog Soldiers, but it’s hampered by a somewhat hammy script and a budget that simply cannot encompass the ambitions of Flemyng and his screenwriter, Danny King (Wild Bill). Dodgy effects work is one thing, but when you find yourself noticing the poor cinematography in exterior sequences, something is seriously awry.

The proceedings are buoyed by a game cast, brisk pacing, and the odd stand out action beat. Plus, any movie where a granny vampire lets loose with a machine gun to the strains of The Damned has its heart in the right place. Still, the hit rate of jokes is maybe 50% and the whole thing never quite manages to rise to its obvious potential. If you’re in a forgiving mood you’ll have fun, but don’t expect miracles.