Friday, July 31, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Datalore"

While I hate to sound like a broken record, “Datalore” is another episode I have mixed emotions about. Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad.

I like the episode overall. The back story of Data and Lore’s creation hints at elements of Frankenstein, one of my all time favorite novels. Although Data refers to his home colony’s primary purpose as scientific, it seems much more like it was a farming community in which Noonian Soong hoped to work on his positronic brain idea in obscurity. Lore was created first. It sounds like the colonists were upset because his ability to completely adapt to human customs sparked off a superstitious concern within them, so Soong turned him off and created the less human Data instead.

The script cannot decide whether to play up the irony that the colonists dislike seeing all their bad qualities demonstrated by a perfect machine or to play up lore’s obvious psychotic issues. The former might have been more interesting. But the latter happened. At least at this point, Lore acts like the typical over the top insane villain that the original crew often ran up against in TOS. I suspect this element of his personality was Roddenberry’s handiwork in the script. Lore chewed more scenery than a billy goat with a tapeworm, too. Cretainly that was Roddenberry’s touch.

I complain about Lore’s psychosis because he could have been so much more had he followed through what the plan he originally offered to data. lore was trying to tempt Data to go off and absorb the knowledge of thousands of alien beings. What he wanted was power and later, when he reaches his peak in “Descent,” he is a much more entertaining character. (Thanks, Ronald D. Moore.) But here, within just a few minutes, he reverts back to being a cold blooded killer for no discernable reason. He is just in cahoots with a genocidal, flying snowflake. We do not know if he gwts anything out of it besides the pleasure of killing.

I can overlook the weaker points of Lore’s debut because he will become such an iconic character. It could not have been easy for Brent Spner to play both him and Data off one another, particularly when lore was pretending to be Data. He does look like he had fun with it, though.

What I do have a hard time with is the general stupidity of the rest of thecrew. Why is it when lore admits he lied about being created second, it does not raise any almsman them? Why is it when “lore” is deactivated, they just leave him on the floor without any security? Sure, he is deactivated, but they do not know if his differences from Data might include some sort of failsafe awakening. Why is it that wesley believes “data” is just practicing lore’s facial tic and then has the stupidity to comment he would have thought he was Lore if he had used a contraction. (Which Data uses when he tells Picard, “I’m fine,” at the end of the episode, yet no one catches it, either.) no one’s suspicions are raised when Wesley pints out he is not the real data even though he suddenly has the ability to speak to the crystal entity, calls Riker by name rather than his usual rank, and misunderstands Picard’s, “Make it so.” What the heck kind of clues do these people need? They all treat Wesley like garbage even though he was right all along and offer no apologies when the situation is resolved. The main characters do not come off well in “Datalore.”

One really good point in closing is “Datalore” is Roddenberry’s final writing credit for televised Trek. Anything that marks his ebbing influence on the show is good in my book.

Rating: ****(out of 5)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Big Goodbye"

“The Big Goodbye” features the first of many holodeck malfunctions in Trek. I am of mixed emotions about that. While I have to wonder why a series set in outer space with all its wonderful possibilities has to rely on a holodeck for stories, a few of those stories have been quite good. “The Big Goodbye” is one of them. It also earned TNG an Emmy and a Peabody Award, so one has to assume future holodeck efforts were an attempt to recreate the magic. No pun intended.

I have a penchant for noir detective stories “The Big Goodbye” is largely an homage Raymond Chandler’s The Maltese Falcon, but there are elements of many of Detective Phillip Marlowe’s cases featured. I have noted if you are not a fan of the genre, you probably either love or hate it as a perceived homage to “A Piece of the Action” from TOS. It is shortsighted to see any similarities between the two episodes, but perspective is perspective. Whether it is an homage to Chandler or “A Piece of the Action,” I consider it one of the better episodes of TNG and a vast improvement over “A Piece of the Action.”

We have Picard, stressed out because he has to perform a perfect greeting in the complicated language of a hypersensitive insectoid race. He decides to take a break in the holodeck and play his favorite fictional detective, Dixon Hill. Data and Beverley Crusher join him. A malfunction removes the safety protocols, so they find themselves in the middle of a real hardboiled criminal investigation.

The episode was a breath of fresh air, though perhaps an odd fit for the first season. Much like “The Naked Now,’ it just does not seem right to have the characters acting abnormally, either drunk or role playing, when they have not been firmly established yet. But I rate “The Big Goodbye” much higher than “The Naked Now.” It is still a better fit and more entertaining.

“The Big Goodbye” gives further hints Picard and Crusher have romantic feelings for one another. Much like the riker/Troi relationship elaborated on in the previous episode, “Haven,” it is this awkward hint they had something going in the past, but it was not enough to last. Now they are stringing each other along until they are certain no one more enticing is going to come along. Neither of their relationships--such as they were--really soared, particularly in the early seasons. I understand Picard/Crusher shippers like this episode because of the “romantic” developments, but it just does not sing for me.

Rating; **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Haven"

I had only the vaguest memories of “Haven” when I sat down to watch it for this review. The only thing I recalled were several of the “moments,” like the talking gift box played by DS9’s Armin Shimmerman and mr. Homm’s fondness for alcohol while suffering under Lwaxanna Troi’s employ. After watching, I remember why that is. The episode is not all that great.

The Enterprise arrives on Haven, a planet known for its alleged mystical healing properties. While there, Troi begins receiving wedding gifts. Unbeknownst to anyone, she has been given away in a prearranged marriage at birth. Naturally, this upsets her imzadi, Riker the most.

It is hard to blame him. Troi never said anything about this to him. Why would she deceive her beloved that way? Oh, yes. Because Troi’s entire purpose is to be a manipulative, emotional leech. Not that Riker has handled their relationship much better himself. While it was obvious they always had a thing for each other, riker never pays much attention to Troi unless someone else is after her. That includes a cloned version of himself in “Second Chances.”

The pattern establishes itself in “Haven.” The two are not romantically attached, but Riker hauls off to the holodeck to pout when he learns he cannot string Troi along at his convenience. Once the wedding his called off because trio’s to be husband, Wyatt, finds a calling more to his liking, Riker settles back down, refusing to consider marrying troi himself because he has other obligations. Said obligations will involve a string of other women in future episodes while bouncing back to Troi during lulls.

Like I said above, Troi is deceitful person who will use her abilities to manipulate friend (recall pointing out Tasha Yar’s base fascination with being kidnapped by primitives in ’Code of Honor”), foe (The Ferengi in ’The Battle,” although she previously said she could not read through their thick skulls. She also lied to Zon in “Encounter at Farpoint” when she said she could only ability was to read the emotions of the willing when she had just been communicating telepathically in the previous scene), and now, hiding her arranged marriage from riker for years. I cannot blame him a whole lot for seeking greener pastures.

“Haven” was awfully trite and shallow. You knew Troi was not going to get married, so you were never surprised when Wyatt found an alternate plan for his life. I obviously do not care much for the Riker/Troi relationship, so I have no emotional attachment to Riker’s on again/off again jealousy. I am not crazy about Lwaxanna troi, either her cougar antics towards Picard in Tng and Odo in DS9 are played for such silly, forced laughs that I cannot stand the character, at least in her less serious episodes. She shines a couple times in future episodes, but not often.

No one ever mentions she sounds just like the computer, either. What is up with that? Are the Starfleet personnel observant or what?

Rating; * (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Hide and Q"

I have seen “Hide and Q’ at least a half dozen times over the years, including its first run in 1987. At no point did I ever like it. This is the first time I have ever had to sit down and hash out why I have never cared for the episode. Two main reasons came to mind. First, it features all the worst elements of TOS. Two, the characters act so over the top emotionally unstable, it is embarrassing in some places, jaw dropping in others.

Going in order, “Hide and Q” feels like a rewritten TOS episode. All the elements are there. Q is a flamboyant, infinitely powerful being who wants to test the worthiness of humanity. He kidnaps the bridge crew and plops them down on a planet like looks more like the backdrop for a high school than a Hollywood soundstage. The bridge crew is then put into conflict with historical figures from Earth. You get a certain Kirk battling pure evil alongside Abraham Lincoln, but at least the 18th century French army soldiers here are warthog creatures rather than human. So at least there is an unearthly element to it. That is something you would hope for from someone as strange as Q.

I do not think I went into the matter when reviewing “Encounter at Farpoint,” but I do not care for Q. there have only been two, maybe three, appearances over the years which I enjoyed. He has nothing to offer that we have not seen from Trelane, the metrons, Yarnek, etc. In his defense, I never much appreciate infinitely powerful characters in science fiction unless they are done right. By which I mean humans ought to be insignificant gnats. He ought not be dressing up like a French Field marshall or a Benedictine monk just for kicks.

There are times when Q is more in tune with my expectations (“Q Who” and “Tapestry” come to mind immediately.) but for the most part, the character is a wash. Too bad. I really like John de Lancie.

All that said, it is the characterizations that really bother me about “Hide and Q.” When Q first appears as a three headed snake, Worf and Tasha Yar leap over the railing, phasers drawn, in order to confront him. Their ready for battle raction must be in compensation for their just standing there the first time he showed up on the bridge in “Encounter at Farpoint.” this is not the last of their annoying behavior, either. Tasha overreacts to Q down on the planet and gets exiled to the “penalty box” of the bridge before she can kick Q likeshe does everyone else who sets her off. She promptly starts crying. Nothing says Chief of Security quite like tears over hurt feelings. Worf later engages in klingon sex on the bridge right in front of everyone. I guess that is ind ofcool, in a way.

But here is the worst part. Q’s purpose is to grant Riker the power of the Q. riker reluctantly uses it to bring Worf and Wesley Crusher back to life after they are killed by the French warthogs and returns everyone safely to the ship. When he is back on board, Picard makes him promise he will never use his powers again. Brokerages. Bear in mind, they never discussed any logical reasons whatsoever why Riker needs to refrain. It is an understood moral imperative that he not and no one questions it.

No one questions it until they reach their original destination--a planet wherea mining accident has severely injured hundreds of people. The crew finds a dead little girl under heavy rubble. Data points out riker could bring her back to life, but he refuses because he promised Picard he would not use his powers. The kicker is Picard agrees he made the right choice in not bringing the girl back to life. That is right. Picard gives Riker an attaboy for letting an innocent child die. There is still no moral discussion why Riker should not use his powers, nor does anyone appreciate Worf and Wesley would be definitely be dead with the others in mortal danger if he had not.

The irony of it boils down to Picard lecturing Riker over how power corrupts. So somehow, killing through inaction is more virtuous than saving a life simply because one has more power to save the life than anyone else? Sorry, but I do not see it. put me in the camp of Picard is wrong and Riker should have told him to stick it in his ear.

Riker does begin to question himself, but he comes to the conclusion he should give his friends gifts in order to prove he is not a monster rather than, oh, I do not know--actually saving the little girl? He gives Worf a sex partner, Geordi his sight, Wesley his manhood, but data turns him down when he seeks to make the android human. I can see why Data would refuse (who wants to be fragile and mortal?) and wesley wanted his old self back (why lose ten years of your life/). But geordi would rather remain blind than offer gratitude to either Riker or Q. it is not made clear exactly who he has contempt for at the time. Riker has adopted a smug attitude making him more annoying than Wesley on a sugar high.

So the experiment ends with Riker giving up his powers. Everything goes back to normal. The crew has its principles, blindness, youth, unemotional , eternal existence, and unrelieved horniness intact. The power of the Q will not beutilized for good. Oh, yes. That little girl is still dead, too. I guess everything worked out well. Do elaborate in the comments if you think so. Personally, I think Riker squandered a gift that could have been a great boon to all life because he listened to the shortsighted advice of his colleagues.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, July 27, 2009

FOX Unlikely to Air Family Guy Abortion Episode

Seth McFarland, the creator of Family Guy, American Dad, and the upcoming The Cleveland Show, announced at the San Diego ComiCon he was producing an abortion theme episode of Family Guy which FOX is unlikely to air. It would not be the first episode to not air. The first season’s ‘When You Wish Upon a Weinstein” was considered too anti-Semitic to air on network, but it has appeared in syndication and on the DVD set.

I am not certain whether I should be surprised. Family Guy has already done some disturbing abortion jokes. Peter Griffin’s mother went to Mexico in a failed attempt to abort him. The abortion was her hanging on a dangling rod while men beat her stomach like a pinata. An episode this season which was set in colonial times featured a “contemporary” abortion clinic which involved climbing a high platform, then belly flopping to the ground. FOX aired both segments. Frankly, I do not see how the lines of good taste could be crossed anymore blatantly than it already has.

It is not that Family Guy is muzzled in regards to political views. Episodes in the last season endorsed atheism and pot legalization, as well as featured a Nazi SS uniform with a McCain/Palin campaign button prominently displayed. The show has spared no punches for its sister company, NewsCorp and the FOX News channel, either.

With Family Guy Serving as an equal opportunity offender, one wonders if FOX is bowing to pressure from pro-abortion groups who fear the practice being mocked. It would not surprised me for liberal sacred cows to get consideration when religion, drug laws, and conservative beliefs do not.
Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Battle"

The second appearance of the Ferengi makes a much better splash than their debut. At the very least there was no more jumping like a jittery Chihuahua at loud thunder. Here they present both a more formidable villain and, in the case of the first officer’s reaction to his captain’s private vendetta, an added dimension beyond pure adversarial behavior.

Picard is suffering fro unusual headaches while simultaneously having to deal with a Starfleet ordered rendezvous with the Ferengi. They have brought a “gift’ for Picard--his old ship, the Stargazer. The Stargazer was lost nine years previous when it was forced to defend itself against an unknown ship, which it subsequently destroyed using what would become known as the Picard Maneuver.

In truth, it was a Ferengi vessel commanded by the son of Bok, Daimon of the current vessel meeting with the Enterprise. Bok is seeking revenge on Picard by altering the Stargazer logs to an admission of guilt for destroying a vessel flying uner a truce flag and using a device on picard that forces him to relive the memory of that battle as though it is happening now.

Bok’s crew mutinies because there is no profit in revenge, but will not help rikersave Picard. Riker is able to convince Picard to destroy the memory control device before he uses the Picard Maneuver to attack the Enterprise.

The plot is fast paced and exciting. One of the few times we ever see some self-doubt in picard is during the too brief period of time when the altered Stargazer logs might have been accurate. It was awkwardly brief. It might have made for a more interesting episode if the circumstance of the battle had remained ambiguous rather than let us know even before the next commercial break the logs were falsified.

But even that was not the most trite element. I have been advised not to hate on Wesley any further, but I just cannot help it. During the climax, he discovers signlas from the Stargazer match Picard’s brain patterns. He comes out of no wherewith this info after being off screen for forty minutes and discovers the source of a problem the entire crew of commissioned officers were not only unable to find, but did not know existed. When he does so, he smugly mutters to himself, “Adults.” it makes you want him to get flipped inside out in a transporter accident.

Aside from the moment Wesley went from mildly annoying kid to a teeth gnashing pain in the butt, “The Battle” was an enjoyable episode. The first season was starting to come together at this point. There will be a few more dips this season, but the future potential is becoming clear.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Justice"

When I decided to cover TNG in addition to TOS, there was a list of about twenty episodes I was anxious to sink my claws into. There are not many in the early seasons, but “Justice” is one of them. Surprisingly enough, I am not going to hate on Wesley the Wonder Boy here even though he does exhibit a pitifully immature attitude for a sixteen year old genius. What I am more interested in is the convergence of religion and law.

My attitude about “Justice” has changed over time. For quite a while there, I considered it a critique of the absolute law religion imposes upon its adherents. It is not much of a stretch to consider the Edo the ancient Israelites living under Mosiac Law. Throughout the Old Testament, God strictly enforced the law with no exception because the law served the higher purpose of paving the way for the Messiah.

Mosiac Law was absolute and it served to keep the Israelites from being corrupted by outside sources. The god of the Edo appeared to have the same intentions. With that in mind, it is easy to see how ‘Justice’ could be a critique of Old Testament rules. We are obviously pulling for Wesley to escape punishment because we find god’s law of execution for a simple crime of accidental vandalism grossly unfair. As a Christian, I have to become defensive about such a critique.

But a more mature viewing is necessary. As I have gotten older and wiser (?), I note the resolution of Wesley’s legal predicament parallels the development of Christianity without critiquing it as harshly as I once thought. While Wesley was originally subject to absolute law, Picard’s argument to the Edo god that justice cannot be absolute suggests the necessity of grace from the god because an absolute law is impossible to perfectly follow.

The Edo god accepts the concept of grace on two levels, one of which is not so obvious in the episode itself, but does come into play later when Picard is called on it in “Coming of Age.” Picard is violating the Prime Directive by rescuing Wesley from execution, but he has also violated the Prime Directive by interacting with the pre-warp society in the first place. The Edo god is already cutting him slack by entertaining his mingling with the Edo to begin with. So the Edo god is already allowing for grace because of its information exchange with data near the beginning.

It is not a perfect parallel to the Israelites or the theological development of Christianity, but anything more overt would have become even more preachy than the worst of Trek often is. What I have taken away from the episode is less a criticism of God’s Old Testament justice than an appreciation of the current grace we live under.

Somehow, I doubt that was intentional. But we you consider that we encountered a backward, superstitious, and violent planet run exclusively by blacks afew episodes ago and an idyllic, peaceful society inhabited by blode haired, blue eyed Aryans here, we just have to accept some unintended messages come across from time to time.

On a more superficial note, Picard was even more of a royal jerk than usual. He blew off Beverly several times while she was worried about her son being executed in a few hours she had to degrade herself by literally begging to beam down once her professional duties tending to Data were finished. He scolded data twice while the android was trying to relay important information. You may argue he was wound tight over concern for Wesley or his crew, but he snapped at him with a contemptuous “boy’ when Wesley tried to speak up before sentence was carried out. Perhaps I should cut him some slack with the pressure he was under, but he seemed extraordinarily cold, especially considering it was his violation of the Prime Directive that started the whole mess to begin with.

Regardless, “Justice” is one of the few bright spots in the first season. Double shocker that Wesley was at the center of a decent episode. triple points that Picard did not decide to destroy the Edo god because it was stifling Edo society like Kirk would have.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Lonely Among Us"

“Lonely Among Us” is the second dud in the uneven first season. It is slightly more entertaining than “Code of Honor,” but only because its bad elements are simply dumb rather than offensive. The key point to take away from it is the contradiction between the two stories of escorting alien delegates to a peace conference versus the ship constantly malfunctioning. The problem is the crew’s arrogant enlightenment in the former matter versus their complete idiocy in dealing with the latter.

This is the first time in the series the crew openly turns its nose up at alien cultures that do not measure up to their standards. At least in ’Code of Honor,’ there was a certain accommodation since the Federation needed a vaccine from the primitive culture. In this case, they are escorting two alien culture who hate each other so much, they cannot have their quarters on the same deck.

Some of their conflict is understandable. One species is reptilian and the other is mammal. At least in the audience’s mind, we can grasp why they would have animosity because we can relate their relationship to the animal world. But wait. Their conflict goes further than that. They have differences in food tastes and economic systems.

That, by the way , is the main conflict. The crew pays little mind to their bigotry towards one another. Picard verbally expresses bewilderment over the chauvinism over their differing economic systems. Any reasonable human is a socialist, after all. Meanwhile, Roker and Tasha Yar are having trouble with the fact one delegation eats actual meat rather than accept synthetic meat created by the replicators. Because we have developed well beyond the need to cook animals. What are we, barbarians? Sheesh.

It is the typical unreasoned liberalism of Trek. It takes contemporary issues, like capitalism v. socialism and animal rights v. how darn tasty cows are and reveals self-loathing about our culture. It is all fixed by the24th century when we abandon both cash and hamburgers, but, lord have mercy, what cavemen those 20th century brutes were, no?

Contrast this with the fact the crew cannot figure out the most obvious answer to the mystery of why the ship is malfunctioning. They pass through a strange cloud on their way to the peace conference. As they do, and energy surge injures Worf. The ship begins malfunctioning simultaneously. So they suspect the clouds is at fault, right? Nope. It is sabotage!

They immediately dismiss the idea there is a traitor on board because enlightened Starfleet personnel wuld never do such a thing. It must be those filthy aliens. Blasted meating capitalists. You just cannot trust them.

They still do no figure out they acquired a hitchhiker from the cloud until it inhabits Picard and explains it to them. The hilarious part of all this is that Data begins playing Sherlock Holmes during the mystery and even repeats the axiom that when all other possibilities have been exhausted, whatever is left, no matter how implausible, must be the answer. But they still never get around to thinking it is the cloud.

Picard gets dumped in to the cloud, but is recovered through some techno babble explanation regarding the transporter converting the energy he had become into the image of his old pattern still in the transporter record. It is a typical resolution. The episode ends on a laugh line when one of the mammal delegates wants to know if the cook can prepare reptile. This in spite of the fact we have already established fake meat meals are replicated fully made and there is no cook on board anyway.

Meh. Not a decent episode at all, but there is a peculiar homage to TOS. The alien energy being passes from regular characters safely, but kills the guest star once it passes into him. The assistant chief engineer, in his first and only appearance, suffers the first ’red shirt” death on TNG.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Where No One Has Gone Before"

“Where No One Has Gone Before” is another Wesley the Wonder Boy is something special episode. As I am not much of a Wesley fan, it does not resonate much with me. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the episode. There is just nothing to particularly recommend it, either.

For one thing, the story is pointless. A Federation scientist named Kominski comes onboard the Enterprise with plans to enhance the warp engines. But Kominski is not the one causing thewarp speed enhancements. It is his assistant, the traveler, who has gained special knowledge of time and space. Wesley triesto expose aud, but no one cares what he thinks.

The situation goes awry and the ship is stranded 1 billion light years away. They are in a region of space in which human thoughts can fulfill fantasies. A crewman imagines she is a ballerina. Another imagines he is in a musical quartet. Picard sees his long dead mother. They have to get out of here before their own thoughts destroy theship.

The Traveler is successful in getting them home, so the standard trek reset button is firmly in place for TNG. Nothing further will ever be done with his engine modifications, either.

The fact that Wesley is somehow special is firmly established when The traveler tells Picard Wesley has a gift for understanding time and space, but it should be kept secret from everyone, including him and his mother. Picard keeps the secret so well it iscompletely irrelevant until near the end of the series when it is revealed Wesley inexplicably has special powers over time and space. Well, I will be darn. That would have been useful to know at various times along the way, no? picard decides to give Wesley a field commission to acting ensign, although many, many members of the crew will still be contemptuous of him. Watch also in subsequent episodes how Picard pays no mind to The Traveler’s admission that wesley is special.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-"The Last Outpost"

With the Klingons tolerating--what better term is there?--a peace treaty with the federation, a new, formidable enemy was necessary. The ferengi were not it.

We are not entirely clear what the status of the Klingons are at this point, mind you. Worf is supposed to represent the new alliance, but he and his situation are the least developed aspect of TNG. He was not even in the previous episode. It is not known whether the Klingon Empire still exists or has been absorbed into the federation. It will still be a few episodes before we do.

But the fact of the matter is that if the Klingons originally represented the Soviet Union, then it is reasonable to assume by the late ’80’s there should be a d├ętente between them and the federation. A new enemy has to reflect the times the same as the Klingons did at the height of the Cold War. But what to choose? If you arean unreasoned liberal like Gene Roddenberry, you logically choose Reagan Era capitalists.

Casting aside the sheer stupidity of snaggletoothed capitalists serving as the mortal enemies of the socialist utopian Federation, the Ferengi were just awful all around. The were short, grotesque critters who moved around likea bad Gollum impression. Worse, their heightened sense of hearing made them afraid of lightening. So was my great-grandmother’s Chihuahua. He was just about as intimidating, too. With few exception, the Ferengi made terrible characters up until DS9 when they became greedy, but relatively affable characters.

But that is the future. For now, they are being pursued by the Enterprise as thieves. Both ships get trapped over an explored planet which begins draining their power. They suspect one another of treachery, but eventually figure out power is being drained from the planet. The audience guessed that right away, but whatever. Both ships beam down an away team to investigate.

Much of the rest of the story plays out like a typical TOS episode, save for one aspect. Storms cause the away team to beam down in awkward predicaments. Geordi, for instance, is hug by his feet in mid air. In TOS, an anonymous crewman would have beamed down as well and been killed by the process. While TNG had its share of sacrificial lambs, I appreciated it did not see the need to kill three union scale actors every week to prove space was dangerous.

The away team does get knocked out by the ferengi energy whips for a time. It is about the last time Ferengi have the upper hand in anything. Tasha Yar overeats as usual and threatens to kick one of them. Threatening is all she does this time instead of just randomly pounding one of them. By TNG standards, that is considered character growth. The Ferengi seem more interested in the gold communicators than anything else. Just like a Republican. Bah.

The planet turns out to bean outpost for the old Tkon Empire. Its guardian, Portal 63, stands to judge the worthiness of the Federation and Ferengi to explore space further. Somehow swinging an ax at Riker’s shoulder goes a long way towards this end. Portal 63 eventually determines the Federation has peaceful intentions, but dislikes the Ferengi. Riker convinces him to let the ferengi go along with them, and he does so. The ships part ways as enemies.

“The last Outpost” is not a auspicious introduction for the Ferengi. Nor is it a particularly good episode for TNG in general. It is too much like a run of the mill TOS episode. The ship is in peril because of a powerful alien who wants to judge their worthiness, enemies accuse each other for their dire situation, the federation is found worth after exploring a sound stage with Styrofoam rocks and paper mache flowers scattered about, and they deem their adversaries also worthy, which the powerful alien accepts without question even though he was ready to kill both of them a few minutes ago. You have seen it all before and do not particularly care to see it again.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Code of Honor"

We have a unique creature here in “Code of Honor”--a TNG episode which would have fit better within the ‘60’s era TOS, but probably would have made for some discomfort even then. I am about as politically incorrect as one can be without embracing full on nihilism, but the alien Ligons, like something straight out of a ’30’s move serial presentation of tribal Africa, made my jaw drop a couple times. The only thing that could have made it worse is if they all had bones in their noses and tried to cook tasha Yar in a huge pot. They already play with ivory tusks.

Ligon has a rare vaccine which can be used to treat a illness ravaging a federation planet at which millions of lives are at stake. Lutan, their leader is willing to give the Federation all they need as long as he is shown the respect he believes he deserves. It is apparently difficult for the crew to do so, as they toss out all sorts of backhanded comments regarding the Ligons’ backwards customs, superstitions, and warlike attitudes because human grew out of thata long time ago.

That thinly veiled contempt for any alien culture not in tune with Federation ideals will be a running theme throughout the early seasons. In this case, it takes on a nastier twist because of the stereotypical view of Africans as two steps away from screaming, ’evil spirits!’ and bashing the Enterprise computers with a club at the slightest hint of a flash of light or ping of a button.

Lutan develops a fascination with TashaYa, not only because she is security chief rather than a barefoot and pregnant housewife, but because she judo flips his bodyguard, attendant, or whatever the heck that guy was. He kidnaps Tasha as a sign of his superiority in the face of the more powerful Federation, forcing Picard into the position of politely asking for her back.

For whatever reason, I find that move to be even more insulting. Picard gave Lutan a wooden horse as a gift of friendship between Ligon and the Federation, which is about as patronizing as you can get. It reminded me of the scene in Blazing Saddles where the governor is going to give Indian tribes ball and paddles in exchange for their land because they have no idea what things are worth. It was a laugh line in 1973 comedy, but done in earnest in 1987 science fiction. Then Lutan has to do his thing in order to gain respect? Ugh.

Picard plays along while the Ligons seem none the wiser condescendingly two-faced he is being. In several private conversations among the crew, Picard pretty much admits if it were not for the Prime Directive, he would raze the place and just take the vaccine.

Lutan’s wife challenges Tasha to a fight to the death when Lutan makes clear he plans to keep her. Never one to pass up an opportunity whop someone upside the head in her repressed anger, agrees.

In a scnee straight out of “Amok Time”, the two engage in a melodramatic brawl with poisoned spikes and a lot of grunting. Tasha eventually wins, beams the defeated, then dead woman aboard so Crusher can bring her back, Lutan thinks it is all witchcraft, but honors his agreement to give all the vaccine if tasha won. To add insult to injury, his wife dumps him for his bodyguard, assistant, or whatever the heck he was in spite of there being no hin the had a thing for her until he showed concern for her during the duel with Tasha. Lutan probably would have beheaded him if he had expressed any interest.

Amid all this was an annoying Wesley moment. Picard had ordered him to stay away completely from the bridge. He stands sheepishly in the turbo lift while his mother asks permission for him to come on the bridge. When he does set one foot in, Riker moves towards him with a reark like, ’I’ll get rid of him, sir,’ like he is taking out the trash. What a contemptuous scene. Trash that saved the ship in the previous episode, to boot. Instead, Wesley gets to man to comm while the ship is in orbit to the surprise of everyone. Wesley still comes across as a wedgie waiting to happen.

“Code of Honor” is definitely not one of TNG’s brighter moments, even by the first season's standards.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Star Trek; The Next Generation--"The Naked Now"

It is difficult to rate “The Naked Now.” There is nothing fundamentally wrong with it in theory. As a sequel series, it is perfectly logical to walk the fine line between homage to TOS while establishing its own identity. I have to question several bits of wisdom in exactly how the powers that be at TNG decided to walk that line.

“The Naked Now” is a direct sequel to “The Naked Time”, one of the more popular of TOS episodes. It is almost a direct copy, in fact, so much so that George Takei critiqued the episode in his autobiography as children dressing up as their parents and pretending to be grown ups. Ouch.

I do not think I can be that harsh. The biggest problem with “The Naked Now” is the timing. It is only the second episode of the series. The actors are not familiar with their characters yet, much less the audience. To suddenly have all the characters acting irrationally when you are not yet accustomed to their normal behavior is off putting. While “The Naked Time” relatively early in the first season of TOS, at least five episodes had aired, giving us a fair chance to see the characters in action beforehand. Most of the amusement of ’The Naked time” comes from the comparison between the characters’ normal and uninhibited behavior. You have to look in hindsight in order to judge “The Naked Now.”

Personally, I am squeamish about a couple. The infection is similar to alcohol, which does not create thoughts, but removes inhibitions. If nothing else, an emotional drunk is honest. Geordi revealing his desire for normal vision and Wesley wanting to grow up faster than he is were fine and understandable. The Picard/Crusher and Tasha Yar/Data encounters not so much.

Bitsand pieces of the Picard/Crusher relationship are revealed over the course of the series, mostly after Gene Roddenberry was gone. He still maintained that plot, not characters, should drive the story, so character development was kept to a minimum. Perhaps that is why revelations fit in so awkwardly or maybe it is just a stylized view of women in science fiction as nothing but male fantasies. I do not know, but watching the two reveal romantic feeling for each other is an uncomfortable experience in hindsight.

Picard was old friends with crusher and her husband, Jack. He carried a torch for her for years, but never acted on it out of loyalty to his friend. Jack was killed thirteen or so years prior to “The Naked Now” because of a life or death decision by Picard. You cannot help but think there might be a David setting up Urriah to be killed so he can have Bathsheba thing going on. If you can dismiss that possibility--and I can--what about the idea Beverley is obviously ready, willing, and able to reciprocate a relationship with the man whose actions lead to her husband’s death? If not for herself, than how about Wesley, who is now fatherless? Unless, as an odd fan theory suggests, Picard is really Wesley’s father? Surely the writers never intended that, but the sloppy back story arguably lays it out there for you.

Even after all that, it is still Tasha Yar’s treatment that bothers me most. It had already been established she had some serious repressed anger issues in “Encounter at Farpoint” She suffers from angry emotional outbursts and violent tendencies at the slightest threat. In ’The Naked Now,” we learn it is because she orphaned at five ad dodged rape gangs until she was rescued at fifteen. Under no circumstances was it ever going to be established a girl fifteen years old or younger was raped, but come on--she was. She even claims to have remained untouched. I think it isa lie.

So what is worse: hat Tasha randomly grabbed a guy and kissed him against his will, decided to have drunken sex, or that she had to have the sex wirth an emotionless android like Data/ She points out she wanted it for pure pleasure, not any sort of intimate connection. For someone as obviously emotionally damaged as she is, the whole sequence is degrading. I understand many fans play it off as humorously memorable. It gets cleaned up later when revealed data and Tasha appeared to have a deeper connection with one another than previously thought, but that is in hindsight. At the time..ugh.

I also find it ridiculous that Data would be infected anymore than the ship’s computer could be. The whole purpose of him being infected was to set up that encounter with Tasha. When it comes time for him to rearrange the power chips in their proper order, he can do so with little effect from the infection. So the fact that he is sick is no lohera plot point then. The drama was all about wesley taking over the ship.

Ah, Wesley. I am in the Wesley Was an Annoying Little Wedgie Waiting to Happen school of thought. It was funny watching him get the best of Picard, particularly when he tricked Picard into revealing what his orders would be if control of the ship were returned to him. Heh. Outwitted by a drunken teenager. There is that brief moment before Picard injects Wesley with thecure that you think, oh so subtly, Picard is about to smack him.

It sounds like I have a huge ax to grind with “The Naked Now.” I do not. Had it occurred later on in the season, it might even have been a classic. My biggest complaint is we were not familiar enough with the characters to appreciate the difference in their behavior. I appear to bea voice in the wilderness regarding the sexual relationship implications, so I cannot count them too much against the episode asa whole.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Encounter at Farpoint"

I would certainly like to start these reviews n a higher note, but “Encounter at Farpoint” is what we get as the jumping off point for what will evolve into a solid, though not aging gracefully, science fiction show. Looking back, I wonder how the show survived its uneven first season. We owe two star alignments for that. One, there was not much science fiction on television at the time. Two, the fledgling FOX network was starved for content and readily picked up the show. Considering its relatively low quality at first, I imagine competition would have killed it even earlier than TOS.

One thing to note right off the bat is the similarities to TOS. It is not terribly surprising. Gene Roddenberry, D. C. Fontana, and David Gerrold among others carried over from the original series. They did not provide a fresh vision. The problems with “Encounter at Farpoint” are the same as with the blandest of TOS: powerful alien with a penchant for earth history and literature is testing humanity, the sets are fake looking Styrofoam rocks, and the characters make up for their bland natures by overacting. Eventually, that will change when Roddenberry’s people depart to make way for Brannon Braga, Rich Berman, Ronald D. Moore, tracy torme, ira Steven Behr, and a host of others who would go on to shape science fiction on television right up until today. But for now, we have to limp along.

It will be much easier to point out the absurdities as I summarize the episode, but know as a whole, the story is pathetically padded. There is about forty-five minutes worth of story spread out into ninety. It is almos like the writers had prepared for an hour long slot and at the last minute discovered they needed to fill two instead. It is particularly worse if you watch the syndicated daily version split into two episodes. You can tell how awkwardly it was split, as though it was unplanned.

I will give the show props for starting off with some excitement. Within the first few minutes, after we have established Data talkative nature is going to bea pain in picard’s butt, the ship into a wall similar to “The Tholian Web”. Q shows up on the bridge dressed as a 16th century explorer and demands the savage humans turn back from unexplored space.

Here is where they start to lose me with the characterizations. Troi completely flips out when she senses Q’s mind. It is almost as though she is having a nervous breakdown. You might think this reaction would be a one time thing to emphasize Q’s enormous power, but no. she goes on to havea couple more throughout thestory which last for minutes and cross way over the maudlin line. The physical effects of her powers are toned down in future episodes, but Good lord is she annoying here.

I am jumping ahead a bit with Troi, but I have to say I never cared for the implications of her powers. There was always a sinister element to her. The ethics of using her to read others’ emotions without their permission is mentioned on a number of occasions and quickly cast aside, probably because there really is no moral justification for allowing her to intrude on others that way. I note here that she has an openly dishonest moment without blinking. When she is reunited with Riker on the bridge, she communicates with him telepathically. But a couple scenes later on the planet, she assures an uneasy Zon she can only sense high emotion, nothing more. Well, what was that with Riker? You may argue that was a special circumstance since he is her Imzadi, but she is still lying to Zon by omission. This will not be the last time I go against the conventional wisdom Troi is a gentle, caring person.

But back to Q. It is annoying to have yet another alien obsessed with Earth culture, particularly when he considers it to be so barbarically savage. I suspect there was supposed to be some connection with Treane from The Squire of Gothos considering the similar powers and penchant Earth military history and kangaroo courts, but nothing is ever made of it within canon.

Picard shows off some of his arrogant contempt for most everything and everyone by calling Q’s World War Ii era US soldier’s uniform a costume. Picard not only later proves to have a great sense of history and should show more respect for a military uniform, well, he is wearing red and black pajamas. A wee bit on the hypocritical side there.

Picard is not the only one exhibiting peculiar behavior. Tasha Yar, the security officer, just stands there will Q does his thing. Contrast that with her over the top emotional outbursts and random kicking the crap out of any man, woman, or Ferengi who looks at her wrong over the next twenty-four episodes. Ever wonder why no one pays much attention to her repressed anger issues? I have lots more to say about the degradation of her character down the road, too.

This sequence leads to a space chase in which Picard decides to separate the saucer section during high warp just to show the audience the ship can do that. You realize that is true because his rationale is to keep families in the saucer section to protect them from the Q. so right off the bat it is put in viewers’ minds how dumb it is to have families out here on the frontier when they have been revealed as a liability before the second commercial break. Like the moral implications of Troi’s mental powers, the concern there are children onboard will often be overlooked during battles with the Borg, self-destruct sequences, covert missions into enemy territory, etc. It takes a certain suspension of disbelief to consider the inclusion of families a wise idea.

Picard, the only Frenchman with a British accent in the universe, plays true to his La Barre roots twice. First, he relegates the Klingon Worf to babysitting the families. It is an affront to his Klingon nature, but several times during the remainder of the episode, Work proves himself to be an idiot, so maybe it was for the best. Remember this is part of TNG’s theme--aliens are always wrong until a human shows them the proper way. We will see that again and again. In the second nod to his French nature, Picard immediately surrenders to the Q.

His action leads to the redeeming part of “Encounter at Farpoint”--the Post-Atomic Horror kangaroo court. I am a history buff who likes apocalyptic science fiction and I hold a law degree. I hit the trifecta with this one. But I just cannot let the opportunity pass me by to point out what really makes this sequence is the Asian midget who rings the cowbell at every pronouncement. This requires a visual aide:That is quality television, people.

Anyway, after Tasha Yar has one of her outbursts and kicks a guy for no particular reason other than give us an Emma Peel moment with that tight uniform of hers, our heroes are to be executed for the crime of human savagery. It helps a lot when Picard admits humans were savage, but are a swell bunch now. He offers to let Q test them to see humanity’s worthiness. Q likes the idea and lets them go back to their ship and mission to Farpoint. Unfortunately, they do.

The episode goes downhill from there. Q becomes an afterthought until the climax. Picard even orders Riker to watch video footage of their encounter so he does not have to be bothered talking to him. Welcome aboard, Will. Wesley crusher shows up. He is not quite the annoying teenaged ubermuensch he will become. We learn his mother Beverly and Picard have a history, but it is not delved into until later and we all kind ofwish it had not. I have already talked about Riker and Troi’s psychic reunion.

There are a couple nice touches here, both involving Data. It is ironic the android was the character who most grew throughout the course of the series. His Pinnochio yearnings to be human are introduced right off the bat. It is about the only instance in the series where the supposed superiority of being human is not obnoxious. The second bit is his conversation with Adm. Leonard McCoy. It was a beautiful passing of the torch moment. The last bright spot of the episode, too.

There is an excruciatingly long sequence in which the ship is reconnected. Seriously, it lasts three minutes. In terms of exciting visuals, it is right up there with watching grass grow. After an hour, the crew finally begins its mission of solving the mystery of Fasrpoint. No, the mystery is not why they call it a starbase when it is on a planet, although that is a good one, but how it was built so quickly and so perfectly.

The answer, after some snooping, denials by Zon the head administrator, and several more minutes long breakdowns by Troi, is that the station is a captured alien. Its partner attacks the city looking for it. Q shows up to egg Picard on to destroy the alien, but he refuses to. The two aliens become giant jellyfish and trot off together. Picard’s decision not to destroy the creature proves humanity’s worthiness to explore space, so Q departs as well. The Enterprise heads off to see what is out there.What is out there is much better than what we have seen so far. I am going to give “Encounter at Farpoint’ a watchable rating. It is not a classic, but it is not horrible. The first hour, warts andall, props up the second. Although if this was not the start of a successful franchise, it would be infinitely forgettable.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation Introduction

Yesterday, I finished covering all episodes of the original series and as promised (or threatened, depending on your perspective0) I will begin covering Star Trek; The Next Generation. It will be a much more significant commitment than reviewing TOS. There are 175 or so episodes of TNG, depending on whether I combine two part episodes into one review, which will take well into January under the best of circumstances. But I am eager to give it a shot.

Covering TOS first was a two-fold litmus test. One, I wanted to see if I could stick with a daily grind for the better part of three months. Two, I was stagnating for content and hoped TOS would prompt would prompt a lot of ideas about politics, philosophy, ethics, religion, history, etc. The first part was a roaring success, although I will admit I watched episodes and wrote quite a few of the reviews in groups of two or three rather than do them every single day. Nevertheless, I proved I could handle a regular schedule, so I am ready to take on something bigger. The second was a bit more disappointing.

I had seen every episode of TOS a handful of times prior to this project. Up until now, I have always watched for the entertainment value and took for granted its reputation for being a socially conscious show. When I took a scalpel to each episode to see what made it tick, I discovered its reputation may not be as well deserved. I am willing to chalk that up to the issues it dealt with being a matter of history for me. One of the reasons I am willing to do that--and one of the reasons I have a stronger penchant for 24th century Trek--is that I feel more involved with the issues involved in subsequent Trek.

In short, I expect more out of TNG. I am a contemporary of the show. It came on the air in 1987 when I was ten and road off into the sunset in 1994 when I was a junior in high school. I came of age while watching. When it drew off current events and social issues, I had been reading about them in newspapers and magazines, watching them on the news, talking about them in school, and living them in my own life. There are already several episodes on my hit list I am already salivating about sinking my claws into even though I will have to wait until October or November to do so. I think TNG is going to fill my expectations for content better than TOS.

Those of you who thought I was too harsh on TOS should brace themselves for a bumpy right, at least for a while. There was a pattern throughout the series. The first two seasons was severely up and down, the third stared a steady rise, the fourth through half of the sixth seasons are some of the best science fiction to hit television, and then the show stuck around a season too long. There are some gems scattered about, but that is pretty much the pattern to follow.

Before I sound too preachy, I do have a bigger affection for TNG than TOS. I appreciate TOS for its place in science fiction history, but I think TNG is a more enjoyable show. My favorite series is still DS9, but TNG is right up there. It has its flaws, mind you. There is an even more rampant humanist philosophy in TNG, particularly in the early going before Gene Roddenberry devoted more time to cashing the checks than running the show, it took a long time for the characters to shine, their relationships were often disturbingly peculiar, and it often embraced some moonbat liberalism, but overall, it was afun show I am looking forward to watching again with a more critical eye.

Just to address any future speculation, I have no idea yet if I will cover other trek. My favorite series is DS9. I liked it even before the Dominion War storyline took the show into the stratosphere because of how it dealth with historical allegory and religion, two pet interests of mine. Covering Ds9 would involve a lot of fawning. Covering VOY would be the exact opposite. The writing was awful, the social commentary unreasoned, and now that I have seen Ronald D. Moore do the over all plot better on Battlestar Galactica, I question the value of spending six months on the show. The less said about ENT, the better. I cannot name an episode of the series I would want to sit through again and I have only watched most of the last three seasons. Besides, it would take until June 2011 to do all that. One hopes I will have discovered something better to do than blog by then. But you never know.

What we do know is that TNG reviews start tomorrow with “Encounter at Farpoint.” Not exactly an illustrious beginning, but those are the breaks.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Star Trek--"Turnabout Intruder"

We have reached the final episode of TOS in a shade under three months worth of reviews. While ib enjoyed the overall premise and much of the execution, the latent sexism is annoying. I am neither a feminist nor a chauvinist, but the stereotype of an overly emotional woman screwing up what is perceived to be a man’s job and her failure being blamed on her refusal to know her place as a woman is insulting on the surface.

The Enterprise comes to the aid of a group of scientists who have been exposed to some form of radiation. Among them is Janice Lester, an old flame of kirk’s who is jealous because he has command of a starship. When no one is around, she uses an ancient alien device to switch their bodies. Spock becomes suspicious about Kirk’s irrational behavior and winds up accused of mutiny. The rest of thecrew is on edge deciding what to do when the body transfer, presumably because of high emotions, switches back to normal before Lester as Kirk can destroy her real body with Kirk’s essence in it.

The intrigue of the mutiny and court martial scenes redeem the episode’s entertainment value, but there are many issues regarding the story. Along with some subtle, revealing aspects, such as never referring to McCoy as Bones and filing his nails with an emory board, lester Kirk acts completely emotionally unstable rather than trying to assume the role in every way possible. One would hope that is evidence of mental disorder, but eveey step is taken to say that is just the way an overly ambitious woman who does not know her place acts. Like I said, I am not a feminist, but that is just not the right attitude. Kirk’s last words in the series are--literally--if only she had learn to appreciate her role as a woman.

I still have a difficult time believing Starfleet maintains the death penalty, as well. When Lester irk orders Spock and Lester’s execution, Chekov protests the only rule that merit’s the death penalty is General order 4. Said order is never specified, but mutiny is not it. But whatever general order 4 is, it has to be a more appropriate punishment than General order 7, which is trespassing on Talos IV. I am almost embarrassed to know all that without having to look it up.

In spite of its flaws, “Turnabout Intruder” is a watchable episode. Considering some of the major duds in the third season, it could have been far worse. The episode was originally supposed to air in March 1969, but was bumped due to coverage of Dwight Eisenhower’s death. “Turnabout Intruder” did not air until June. Not only did NBC refuse to finance two additional episodes for the season, but sets were being dismantled while filming was still going on. Nichelle Nichols had departed two episode previous in order to pursue singing engagements. On an even sadder note, Jeffery Hunter, who played Pike in the original pilot,, died one week before the final episode aired due to the effects of an accident suffered on a set he probably would not have been on if TOS had been bought based on “The Cage.” Fate is strange, no?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Star Trek--"All Our Yesterdays"

Saving the near best for near last, “All Our Yesterdays” is the second best episode of thw third season, right behind "The Tholian Web.” It is dismaying we had to go all the way to the penultimate episode in order to find a really good one.

It is a Spock-centric episode. I am glad the character received a fine send off. The third season was not kind to him. He had his brain stolen, was forced to flirt with a Romulan commander, and was humiliated by Palto’s spoiled brat stepchildren among the lower moments. But this episode harkens back to “This Side of Paradise” where Spock learns he has the capacity to love if he is willing to let himself do so.

The Enterprise arrives at sorption to warn the population their sun is about to go supernova. They find everyone on the planet has gone save for a librarian named Atoz. (Atoz--A to z. Like an encyclopedia. Get it?) Atoz tells the landing party his people knew about their sun long ago and have escaped into the passed using data discs. They are intrigued and check out some discs themselves. Through a mishap, they win up in different periods of time.

Kirk lands in what looks like 17th century England. His misadventure there is fairly typical. He alls on the bad side of the natives, is thrown in ail, escapes, and then eventually finds his way into the future. The interesting aspect of the episode is Spock’s story with mcCoy along for the ride.

The two wind up 5,000 years into the past during Sarpeidon’s ice age. They are rescued by Zarabeth a woman exiled here becase her tribesmen tried to kill the planet’s dictator. Spock slowly, but surely begins to fall in love with her. One can rarely compliment the acting on TOS, but Spock’s believable progression towards feeling emotion is a testament to Leonard Nimoy’s skills as an actor.

Zarabeth is falling for him, too. She runs a con job about how the travel into the past alters cellular structure so they can never return. It is not true and after all sorts of mood swings and conflict with McCoy, they escape from the past and reunite with kirk.

Atoz travels into the past to be with his family. Kirk, spock, and McCoy beam off world before it is destroyed in the supernova. McCoy shows concern for Spock, who assures him he is back to normal. Back in the ice age, he had been reverting back to his barbaric ancestral roots before they adopted logic. He notes that Zarabeth is log since dead and gone. If you do not feel a twinge of sadness when he says that, you have onestone cold heart.

I am not certain “All Our Yesterdays” would make my ten best list, but it would not miss it by much. It had more heart than than the usual TOS fare. Episodes that featured romantic encounters for the regular characters often did. It is a shame the lack of character development would not allow for a continuing romance. It would have been a serious boost for the show’s credibility.

I have to note TOS is often considered prescient that CDROM would eventually be developed to hold massive amounts of data. In fact, CDs had been invented three years previously by a physicist named James Russell. Russell holds 22 copyrights regarding CDs and is worth a ton of money. I suppose TOS will have to console itself with the similarities between their communicators and modern day cell phones.

Rating; **** (out of 5)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Star Trek--"The Savage Curtain"

“The Savage Curtain” is the finest example of Gene Roddenberry’s showcasing his limited knowledge of pet issues and writing skill. Yet again, we have some Earth elements creating out in deep space, advanced aliens wanting to test humanity, and it is all wrapped up in pseudo-intellectual cotton candy moralizing. At least we got one more of those episodes before the plug was finally pulled.

The Enterprise is on its way to conduct a geological survey of Excalba when it runs into Abraham Lincoln floating in space. After running into Adonais’ hand, a cornucopia shaped doomsday machine, and a giant amoeba, sure, why not? The crew prepares to receive on ship Lincoln with full military honors in spite of the act this is, you know, loony.

I was waiting for him to apologize to Uhura for opportunistically only freeing the slaves in the Confederacy while letting the border states still theirs, but no such luck. She is such a downtrodden character. She even has to put up with being called a niggress.

Let us just skip ahead planet side where an alien named Yarnek--he is never named in the episode or the script, but somewhere down the line, he became Yarnek--.decides to test the concept of good and evil. Yarnek creates copies of four evil historical figures; Col. Green (presumably a World War II figure0, Kahless 9the founder of the Klingon Empire), Zora (Irony alert; she conducted brutal experiments on primitives), and Genghis Khan. To balnce out the good guys, Surak, a Vulcan pacifist philosopher joins Kirk, Spock, and Lincoln. Yes. A pacifist. Even spock knew not to cast his lot in with Surak, thought he was a personal hero.

Yarnek threatens to destroy the Enterprise if the good guys will not fight. By refusing to fight for the sport of it, then opting to fight to save lives, they have already demonstrated the concept of good, but this is lost on Yarnek and we need at least two more commercial breaks, so mucvh spear throwing and rock tossing ensues.

While replenishing their weapons supply, Lincoln muses about Ulysses S. Grant’s battle tactics. Too bad there is no whisky on hand. Say, Lincoln’s military experience was in slaughtering Native Americans, not in fighting the Civil War. Before anyone can dwell on that, Surak decides the wisest course of action is to try peace negotiations with a group of evil historical villains created for the sole purpose of fighting. Kirk, Spock, and Lincoln note his bravery, but you know deep down they have a, ‘yeah, you go do that” attitude.

I am sure you did not see it coming, but Surak dies horribly. Lincoln gets a spear in the back while trying to rescue him, but survives long enough to reveal it isa trap. Kirk and Spock defeat thereto them and they flee in terror.

So what did Yarnek conclude? He says evil ran away when confronted by people willing to fight to save numerous lives. Surak sought peace anyway and was killed for it. Lincoln sacrificed himself to save his compatriots. But when it is all said and done, Yarnek decides there is no difference between god and evil. Apparently, Kirk is just Genghis Khan with less facial hair.

I am tempted to make a “dumb as a rock” joke here about Yarnek, but I do not want to think about “The Savage Curtain” any further.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Star Trek--"The Cloud Minders"

I would be inclined to think “The Cloud Minders” would be Karl Marx’s favorite trek episode ever, but something amusingly went wrong in the translation. The resolution of the story does not have quite the up with the proletariat moral that it meant to have. Instead, it wound up quite capitalist.

To quote Homer Simpson; “D’oh!”

Here is the deal. The Enterprise arrives on the planet Ardana in order to collect the mineral zenite which will be used in an agriculture project in order to prevent a famine elsewhere. The crew finds itself in the middle of a labor dispute where servants of the upper crust are rebelling against the bourgeoisie in alliance with their ’brothers’ laboring away in the mines below the floating city.

It looks like we have a class warfare parable setting up here. The Troglytes, which is supposed to put the term Trotskyites into your mind, are menial laborers who are butlers at best and worked to the point of an early death miners at worst, all while every benefit of their labor goes to a completely idle, leisure class society. The Troglytes in the city rebel by specifically targeting luxury items like works of art in protest of their oppressors.

So you would think Kirk would come in as the hero of the masses and negotiate a peaceful settlement between the parties where everyone respects each other from now on as equals. But you would be wrong. There is a science fiction element added in that throws everything awry. The niners have been breathing in gas all these years which has made them mindless drones. They do not care about working conditions. They just do not want to breathe the gas anymore. So much for workers of the world unite.

Kirk actually solves the problem through innovation. The miners are given masks to keep them from breathing in the gas, so they can keep their heads on straight while they and the servant staffs continue to work for the leisure class. Everyone is happy and apparently in agreement communism sucks.

I can live with that.This, too.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Star Trek--"The Way to Eden"

I have already committed to covering TNG. Those reviews will start on Monday with "Encounter at Farpoint.” There is a fantastic chance my Trek reviews will end with that series because of the burnout risk from the daily grind. But rest assured, if I never write a single word about DS9, VOY, or ENT, I will still have presented to you the worst Trek episode in its 43 history with today’s review. That travesty is the space hippies of “The Way to Eden.”

When I started reviewing the third season of TOS, I said the bad episodes were either bad ideas or decent ideas poorly executed, but a select few were both. “The Way to Eden” is both. The story is awful. The dialogue is dumb. The characterizations are off. The special effects are even cheaper looking than usual. Did I mention space hippies? There is absolutely nothing of redeeming value in this episode. It is like the producers of TOS were flipping the bird at NBC for the inevitable cancellation.

First, the story. I can accept the idea of the spoiled brat kid of a Federation official rebelling by joining a cult. I could even understand if it were some weird alien cult that a young person would find too alluring to resist. But when it turns out to be a bunch of hippies looking for a pseudo-Biblical Eden lead by a Typhoid Mary guru, it all goes down the toilet. I just cannot see it. How did these dopes manage to hijack the Enterprise as easily as they did?

Second, the dialogue. You know the slang as well as I do. No need to comment further on it. You are not Herbert. We reach. Yea, brother?

Third, the characterizations. Does Spock not strike you as an old fart who would not go for what the hippies reselling/ He freely admits even the emotional irrationality of straitlaced, disciplined Starfleet types annoys him. He should hate hippies. Yet there he is, eager to find Eden and jamming with them. Then again, the rest of the ship looked like they rolled some doobies and mellowed out, too. Amazing. Woodstock was still months away from happening when “The Way to Eden” aired, but the Summer of Love was still in recent memory.

Since when is Chekov a by the book, disciplined kind of officer,. He was supposed to be a DavyJones type, anti-authotiatarian rebel who appealed to the kiddies. I guess he was in comparison to the hippies, but still. It was off.

Finally, the special effects. I can forgive Doc Sevrin’s ears as his only alien feature. I liked the Bajorans of DS9 when all they had were nose ridges. But the Aurora Was a Tholian ship when nacelles glued on. Several shots were blatantly reused from past episode and awkwardly fit in. one reaction shot of kirk was obviously filmed in reverse for inexplicable reasons. Honestly, the episode looks almost fan made.

If I may tie this in to future Trek, the most baffling aspect of “The Way to Eden” is that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier,” though not a direct sequel, adopts a number of the episode’s worst concepts. Out of all the episodes the story could have stolen from, this is the one chosen. It is beyond me.

About the only amusing aspect of “The Way to Eden” is the contrast of Charles Napier’s goofy hippie character of Adam compared to the bullying criminal or military types 9once even on DS9) he would play throughout the rest of his career. Most people think of him as the country singer from The Blues Brothers, but I more recognize him as Murdock, the crooked CIA operative who betrays Rambo to the Vietnamese in First Blood II. He was also great on The Critic as Jay Sherman’s sadistic, megalomanical boss. But he did not make Adam even remotely interesting.

Forget waterboarding. Show ’The way to Eden” at Gitmo and I will probably march right along side Human Rightswatch over it.

Rating; * (out of 5)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Star Trek--"Requiem for Methuselah"

“Requiem for Methuselah” is another episode for which there is nothing fundamentally wrong, but still does not satisfy. I am not certain whether it is the character of Flint, the his secret plan for Rayna, or a combination of the two. Either way, there is not much to recommend here.

The Enterprise is suffering from a plague. The ship stops on a supposedly barren planet where they can gather a cure from natural resources. They are surprised to find a human, Flint, living there with a beautiful woman, Rayna. It takes some convincing for Flint to allow the crew to gather the resources they need. Along the way, they discover Flint is an immortal from earth who has either been or knew some of the greatest minds in history. He has created Rayna to be the perfect woman, but she is not complete until Kirk naturally falls for her. The climactic conflict between Kirk and Flint overwhelms her new found emotions and she dies.

As a history buff, the concept of flint cheapens Earth history for me. I do not like the idea onw man has been so pivotal to Earth’s development for 6,000 years. Flint has been everyone from Methuselah to Solomon to Alexander the Great and Leonardo da Vinci. It does not seem right to think one man could have so many different talents and personality types while completely abandoning some of them when he decides to change his identity. I suppose one could become bored with anything over time, but it is difficult to imagine. It is also cheap to have given him an inexplicable ability to regenerate tissue in order to stay immortal. It just does not sing or dance, you know what I mean?

As for Rayna, the idea of Kirk falling madly in love with yet another woman is cliched. How may times in a three year period can one become so hopelessly attached to a woman, particularly when he is so willing to have casual sex with any attractive woman who comes along--even if she is trying to take over the ship, for heaven’s sake! I understand emotions were new to her. An emotional breakdown would be inevitable when she is conflicted between Kirk and Flint, but death? Come on. That was just a trite way of getting rid of her which was way too implausible.

I have to debate the morality of Spock wiping Kirk’s mind of Rayna's memory as well. Is it really a good idea to get rid of bad memories? Yes, they are unpleasant, but they are a part of what shapes us. Living with the pain of bad memories toughens us up. Spock is giving Kirk a crutch that might hurt in the future should Kirk run into another woman who breaks his heart. Experience is the best teacher in dealing with such things. He did not have kirk’s consent, either. Why Spock thought this was a logical move is beyond me.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Star Trek--"The Lights of Zetar"

We are in the home stretch of TOS reviews. There are only six more to go after today. The writing was obviously on the wall at this point regarding cancellation. The final few episodes are a wild mix of ups and downs in regards to quality and attempts at social commentary. Thankfully, only one, ‘The Cloud Minders,’ relies heavily on the latter. But I will get to that when I get to that.

“The Lights of Zetar” is interesting for a couple of reasons. One, it was written by Shari Lewis of Lambchops fame and her husband, Jeremy Tarcher. Both were fans of the show and wanted to contribute to the mythos. The second point of note is the emphasis on Scotty. The third season was rough on secondary cast members, but Scotty in particular. He has been little more than a source of techno babble and a verbal sparring partner for Spock since ’Wolf in the Fold.” I did not care much for “Wolf in the Fold,” but in some ways “The Lights of Zetar” carries on the theme of Scotty’s loneliness from that episode. He deeply falls in love with Mira Romaine here, one of the few times someone other than Kirk, Spock, or McCoy gets to do so.

I am afraid my familiarity with 24th century Trek gets the best of me when analyzing the rst of the plot, however. When a cloud of lights attacks the Federation library planet, it kills everyone there, but goes to inhabit the body of information specialist romaine, who is particularly susceptible because of health reasons. The lights are actually non-corporeal beings who claim they have a right to inhabit romaine’s body because that is the only way they can survive. Their rationale is the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Sound familiar? Scotty will have none of that ad neither will the rest of the crew. They drive the Zetars out into space through some techno babble means where they die.

There was no moral debate over whether the Zetars are correct. In any of the series set in the 24th century, that moral quandary would have been the bulk of the story. Should you sacrifice one of your own people so a civilization can survive/ they have murdered everyone on the library planet, but is it justified in the name of survival? Scotty has fallen for Romaine, so there would be a personal touch to her loss. But we do not get any of that. It is true certain subsequent Treks probably gave too much leeway to the position most opposed to Federation ideals, but “The Lights of Zetar” went too far in the other direction.

The humanization of scotty goesa long way towards making up for the shortcomings. If there had been a greater umber of character episodes like this featuring the rest of the ensemble cast, TOS might have lasted much longer.

Rating: *** (out of 5).

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Star Trek--"That Which Survives"

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with “That Which Survives,” yet it is still a forgettable episode. The only interesting point to note is the competition between kirk and Spock as to who can be the biggest jerk to the people in his direct vicinity. I understand they are both in life or death situations which would prompt high emotion on Kirk’s part and impatience on Spock’s, but they have been there before. Theirs was an unusual case of being short and contemptuous.

The Enterprise encounters an Earth-like planet that is more developed than its age would allow. A landing party beams down just as a mysterious woman, losira, kills the transporter chief. Some power source hurls the ship far enough away it would take over eleven hours to return. The woman continues to sabotage the ship on the trip back while another copy of her randomly appears trying to kill the landing party. Three characters are killed in all. None of whom are major players, naturally.

Once Spock and company repair the sabotage, they arrive just in time to save the remainder of the landing party bu destroying the computer. An image of Losira appears to explain everything. The planet’s population died of disease centuries ago. The defense system was programmed with her personality, the last one the computer could recall. Kirk laments he never got the chance to sleep with her.

That is pretty much it. Not bad, but nothing special. “That which survives” did give Sulu more to do than in just about any episode since ’The Naked Time,” but he mostly winds up being scolded by kirk and running from Lorisa. Sulu fans must be longsuffering types.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, July 10, 2009

Star Trek--"The Mark of Gideon"

The timing of ‘The Mark of Gideon” is impeccable considering just Gins burg’s revelation Roe was intended for ethnic cleansing. I have been perplexed for days what to say about this episode because of it uncomfortable moral quandaries.

The plot is straightforward. The planet Gideon has long refused to even meet with Federation officials, much less join the organization. But they finally acquiesce with the condition Kirk alone beam down. He agrees, but rather than arrive on the planet, he winds up on an abandoned Enterprise with a minorly injured arm and a young woman named Odana. She is infected by Kirk with a plague meant to cut the overpopulated planet down to a manageable size. Eventually, Spock discovers he is getting the runaround from Gideon’s government and rescues Kirk after discovering his location, but Odana is allowed to return to the planet in order to infect the population.

Oh, my. Where to begin?

Overpopulation concerns became a big fad for the intellectual elites in the ’60’s. this is the era that brought us the Club of Rome, a group also concerned with the issue of overpopulation, in its gloom and doom predictions regarding the impact of population growth. In 1972, the Club of Rome published Limits to Growth, a low rent love song to Thomas Malthus. Economists and philosophers have criticized the book from the beginning for the insufficient evidence supporting its thesis. Since mankind did not plunge into cannibalism by the mid-‘80’s, one can only assume critics of The Limits of Growth were on to something.

Not only did the Supreme Court of the united states get into the act indisposing of “inconvenient” people, but so did the science fiction poobahs of the time. Soylent Green remains the most famous example, I would imagine. But we also have “The Mark of Gideon” coming a full five years before Roe and Soylent Green.

I keep bringing up Roe not because I have a huge ax to grind over the decision--even though I do--but because the rationale given for the people of Gideon refusing to use sterilization or birth control is they believe all life is sacred. That is the mantra of the pro-life movement, particularly those religiously motivated, so I am fine with that. It is obviously meant as a jab here because Odana describes her planet as so overcrowded, there is no beach or mountain top of solitude because of that pesky pro-life belief.

Odama’s own father, Hodin, decrees she needs to die of the plague in full view of others her age so they can follow her lead in sacrificing themselves for the greater good. There is no word on exactly how it is determined who should die for others to live. I assume that is a random a decision as it was in “A Taste of Armageddon.” trek appears to have changed its position on the issue in the intervening two years since no effort is made to stop Odana.

To summarize, there are only two solutions to Gideon’s overpopulation proble: sterilization/birth control or genocide. There is no other option advocated, like joining the Federation and colonizing other planets to spread their people out. Odana was so thrilled to be alone on the sprawling, empty Enterprise, one assumes most of her people would be more than willing to relocate. But no, that would eliminate population control policies, therefore limiting government power, so it is not within the realm of possibility.

I am always apprehensive about discussions over population control, eugenics, birth control, abortion, and euthanasia come up, particularly with regards to eliminating “inferior” people. As one with pronounced disabilities, you cannot blame me for that. I am even more fearful when such actions are promoted without any sort of rebuttal like they were in “The Mark of Gideon.” We have fallen terribly far when abortion is discussed as a civil right and dehydrating Terri Schiavo to death is considered mercy. When the first step towards those rationales went unchallenged, we all lost, whether you believe it or not. A throwaway episode of TOS might seem like an insignificant step in the wrong direction, but it was a step in the wrong direction regardless.

I almost hate to mention this, too, but how stupid was it to create an entire replica of the Enterprise, right down to working controls, just to imprison Kirk? They could have more plausibly beamed him down to a shielded cell somewhere with Odana. I cannot imagine that busting the budget in any significant way. It would have made a heck of a lot more sense.

Rating: * (out of 5)