One thing LEXX consistently does better than any other space opera is to convey a real sense of strangeness about its alien creatures, even if they may look human, and the title character is a good example: just when you start to forget that she’s not actually a human being, but the part of a carnivorous plant that lures in its prey, she does or says something to remind you.
She’s also heavily teased as a replacement for Zev, which might have worked, but the rebirth of Zev as Xev is also given credibility by the fact that it’s Lyekka who re-generates her, using Stan’s memories (so as to explain any physical or character differences with the original).
And then, three astronauts from the planet Potatoho turn up, and before you can say “…and Lyekka’s a potato-ho, get it?” the whole thing has turned into a sort of erotic-horror-comedy version of The Quatermass Experiment. There’s a bit of obvious padding to keep the episode to length, but the body horror/comedy is well done, and the (brief) return of Mantrid sets the stage for future adventures nicely.
The episode name isn’t the only thing they’re ripping off from Blake’s 7 this week, as the crew travel to a medical space station dominated by a psychopath of a surgeon who decides to steal the LEXX as soon as he sees it. There’s some pointed satire about American for-profit healthcare systems from a German and Canadian perspective, and Zev gets one of the funniest lines of the episode, interrupting the villain’s rant about his plans for universal domination with “…can’t we just have sex?” Definitely an improvement on last week’s episode, though still not quite as gloriously bonkers as S1 or S3.
And now, on with the episodic series! Not a promising start to the new season, with an episode with way more length than story (Kai is possessed by His Divine Shadow; Kai attempts to re-embody His Divine Shadow with the aid of Mantrid; Kai fails to do so and His Divine Shadow is still on the loose). Plus, for the story to work, both Xev and Stanley have to not suspect that Kai is possessed by His Divine Shadow, and, given that Stanley at least is paranoid to the max, I find it hard to believe the thought didn’t cross his mind.
On the positive side, the special effects to render the titular character, essentially a sentient floating jar full of organs, really are wonderfully grotesque, the cyborg technology of the LEXX universe is consistently well realised, and the digital sets stand up to scrutiny even today.
Eva Habermann, so good as Zev in the telemovies, is really struggling here, hinting at the behind-the-scenes troubles that will force her off the show in a couple of episodes’ time, and her hair looks like a wig.
In some ways Giga Shadow is a pretty appropriate end to the LEXX telemovie series, tying up the loose ends, bringing the LEXX out of the Dark Zone (and throwing it back in, of course) and giving Malcolm McDowell (because they’ve already had Tim Curry and Rutger Hauer) a chance to play a disembodied head.
In other ways, OMG was that ever homophobic, though I suppose it’s a challenge to the usual telefantasy trope to have (mild spoiler alert) the male lead being a rape victim. Still, it kind of went beyond the usual LEXX “I can’t believe they did that!” into “I really wish they hadn’t done that. Ew.” So far LEXX has mostly handled potentially dodgy gender stuff well and gotten away with it: Giggerota could easily have been a let’s-all-laugh-at-the-crazy-lady misogynous thread, but Ellen Dubin’s performance is so hilariously monstrous and over-the-top that she transcends it; furthermore, Zev’s transformation from fat to thin is not so much body-shaming as a repeated indictment of it, as we see over and over how she was abused for her appearance by her parents, teachers, husband and judge, and ultimately forced into her current form. However, nothing about the male-rape plot can be remotely described as clever or subversive, so be warned.
On a more minor point, Squish The Cluster Lizard (LEXX! Where even the cute animal sidekicks are creepy worm thingies!), while a really engaging and delightful addition to the crew, felt rather hastily introduced and then dispatched. I think there’s no reason they couldn’t have had him hatch out in Eating Pattern, to give us the impression he was going to be a regular, before doing away with him at the end of Giga Shadow.
On to the episodic series!
The third LEXX telemovie is not really as subversive as I Worship His Shadow, or as schlockily bonkers as Supernova, and the themes are rather obviously telegraphed even by LEXX standards (I get it, it’s about eating. Move on, OK?). Also, the CGI was more obvious than in the first two stories for some reason: possibly they were saving up money for the grand finale.
Nonetheless, it takes balls to develop a hybrid of Soylent Green, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Screamers, Reefer Madness and Mad Max and make it work as a story. Doreen Jacobi, as unlikely villain Wist, is stunningly beautiful, and Rutger Hauer is, well, Rutger Hauer, and clearly having a lot of fun. The interviews on the DVD extras were also weirdly hilarious.
Not really an awful lot more to say, so let’s move on.
Finally continuing the LEXX capsule reviews with the second Lexx telemovie, Super Nova. Still pretty good, but this one was lower on the subversive wit, higher on the body horror, and had a shower scene where Stan spies on Zev the love-slave (and gets found out) that I’m pretty sure wasn’t in the Canadian version that I first saw back in the nineties (research indicates it wasn’t, and that the team filmed some too-porny-for-Canada sequences with a view to putting them in video releases and European versions).
Without spoilers: this episode sees the crew trying to fix Kai’s longevity issue (having no fresh protoblood, he’s only got ten days to live) by travelling to his home planet of Brunnis. Since he’s also the Last of the Brunnen-G people, it’s inhabited only by The Poet Man (Tim Curry), a hologram who isn’t going to let a little thing like being dead stand in the way of having sex and reproducing. The story also introduces Giggerota, a strangely charismatic recurring baddie with cannibalistic tendencies. The story does some interesting things with the concept of prophecy and destiny; on the negative side, Giggerota, at this point, just feels like a gratuitous if entertaining Rabelasian side-plot, but her importance to the series does become clearer later on.
I have a DVD copy of this, and there was a fun interview on the extras with Lex Gigeroth and the team in which they explain the terribly-new and cutting-edge concept of CGI backgrounds. These have actually stood the test of time pretty well– a lot better than The Phantom Menace, which had more money thrown at it; I hadn’t realised quite how much of the backgrounds weren’t sets until seeing the behnind-the-scenes footage. Also the giant head surrounded by steampunk electrical pylons on Brunnis is astonishing.
For the last couple of years I’ve been re-watching the LEXX series, apart from Season Four (which isn’t on Amazon Prime for some reason) and microblogging about it on Facebook. And then I got asked by a friend if I could make the reviews generally available so he could read them while doing his own re-watch.
So, a new periodic blog feature: LEXX capsule reviews. I’m editing and expanding these from the original microblogs to fit the new format, obviously, but the reactions are more or less the same.
I Worship His Shadow is the first 90-minute (plus adverts) telemovie, which I initially watched on first broadcast on CityTV in Canada. Rewatching, it’s actually a lot better than I remember it being. My past impression had been that it was just a lot of gratuitous schlock, but watching it again there was a lot of wit and subversion of narrative tropes and expectations (it builds and builds towards a story about heroic naughty-but-likeable outlaws with the most powerful ship in the universe…. and abruptly tears that away), casual bisexuality, and surprising gender egalitarianism (I’d been worried about the premise of Zev’s character– an ugly, fat woman given a beautiful thin body and sentenced to life as a love slave– but it winds up being less about the fat-shaming and more about the insidiousness of patriarchy).
There was also a whole lot of really graphic body horror, and (mild spoiler) I’m amazed that they got away with a sequence of multiple child murder on network television.
My summary of LEXX as a whole is: “Blake’s 7, reimagined by Lars von Trier and Ken Russell.” I Worship His Shadow is pretty much that.