Sunday, August 30, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Samaritan Snare"

You have to imagine the Borg would be a hard act to follow for a villain. Relentless cyborgs destroying entire civilizations without the slightest hint of emotion is the stuff of sweat drenched nightmares. So what does TNG give us as the follow up adversary? The Pakleds on The Intergalactic Short Bus. Brace yourself. It does not get much worse than this.

Thankfully, the Pakleds are not the only story here. They do not enter the picture until partway through the first act. What we get before their unfortunate debut is the revelation Picard has an artificial heart which needs to be replaced. Perhaps that explains why he is such a cold fish. Pulaski can perform the surgery, but Picard opts to travel to a starbase instead out of, near as I can tell, a sense of vanity. He does not want anyone serving under hi to see his innards. Wesley has to go to the starbase for more academic testing, so the two are stuck together on a shuttlecraft for twelve hours round trip.

Picard makes no secret he hates every minute by taking his frustration out on Wesley. His attitude brings back harsh memories of his first season demeanor when he hated everyone and everything, but especially kids. At one point when wesley tries to strike up a conversation, Picard slams his book shut and stomps to the back of the shuttle to get away from him.

I can understand Picard’s frustration with undergoing risky surgery, but in my young adult life, I have had a double hip replacement, half my colon removed to repair a rupture, and eye surgery that caused me to lose sight in one eye. Never did I act like such a jerk before going under the knife at any point. I would think a guy like Picard would be even more stoic considering his life experiences. Oddly enough, no.

He does eventually warm up and the two have a conversation over lunch. It is an understandably awkward talk. They have a strange relationship. Wesley looks to Picard as a father figure, but with the mixed emotion of him also being the man responsible for his real father’s death. Picard hates kids, yet feels some obligation to look after Wesley in the same manner military men will “adopt’ the family of a fallen comrade.

What is interesting is Picard humanizes himself by talking about his youthful follies and the bar fight that got him stabbed in the back. He notes that he lookeddown at the blade that went through his heart and laughed, but he does not know why. We will see why in a few seasons when “Tapestry” rolls around. The scenes would have been much better if Wesley were not such a goofy, arrogant teen about having his life under control.

I cannot talk more about the Picard story until I deal with the pakleds. Oh, mercy.

The Enterprise answers a distress call from a group of aliens called the Pakleds. Their ship is broken. It will not go so they can look for things that make them go. That is a more intelligent assessment of their situation than anything they say from here on out. LaForge offers to go overandfix their ships since he does not believe they can follow directions. For whatever reason, riker decides to let him go over alone. They subsequently kidnap LaForge, raising some advanced shields to prevent him from being beamed out.

The worst part about the situation is the Enterprise is completely stymied. I would not be so bothered by this if they had been outfoxed by a more primitive people. That might even make a good twist. But these Pakleds are idiots. It is impossible to believe they can operate their own ship. Indeed, the writers try to get around this by saying they have stolen everything they have gotten…from the Klingons and the Romulans. I cannot say that is a more plausible explanation.

Meanwhile, Picard is under the knife, surrounded by surgeons dressed in bright crimson outfits. Because nothing puts you at ease quite like being overseen by a satanic cult with scalpels. The surgery is not going well--presumably not because t is cursed by Satan, but you never know--and Pulaski is needed in order for Picard to survive.

So now we have ticking clock to save LaForge and Picard. Picard needs a heart, the Pakleds need a brain, and you just know there isa lion out there somewhere in want of courage.

Riker and Gomez (Remember her from last episode? She was the clumsy ditz who spilled cocoa on Picard, so naturally she was place in charge of raising the shields before the Borg could resume their attack…while the Enterprise just sat there.) come up with a plan to trick the Pakleds into thinking they are going to be destroyed by a secret weapon. Lafarge catches the drift, but the Pakleds do not. Big surprise. They surrender LaForge I will Beth could have just told them their shoes were untied, then dropped the shields to beam out before they realized they were all wearing boots.

Pulaski saves Picard. He gets a standing ovation when he arrives back on the bridge. The look of contempt he has for the warmth and caring everyone has for him is priceless. The new heart might as well be a lump of coal.

I liked the Picard half of the story. The semi-bonding between him and Wesley was enjoyable enough to keep the episode from getting stuck with one star. Frankly, if it was just the Pakleds, one star would be generous. Even VOY never featured villains this dumb.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Q Who?"

We have arrived at “Q Who?,” one of the most pivotal episodes of the series. A lot of fan think that is so because the episode introduces the Borg. That is true, but it is more important because the story furthers the overall dynamic between Picard and Q that, unbeknownst to us, runs from the pilot to the finale. Oh, and Pulaski is absent from this one. Hallelujah.

I cannot ignore the Borg’s introduction here. I still have that wide eyed wonder about them as a twelve year old long before VOYr came along to destroy their mystique as a force of nature above any petty sense of political conquest. Love them or hate, the Borg were a unique creation. Most any alien species any trek characters normally encounter could very well be represented by humans with a different cultural standard. The borg rose above that. They were novel and terrifying even before we learned what assimilation was all about.

Getting into the story, we can see how this is more about Q and Picard than the Borg. Q kidnaps Picard while the captain is on his way to change uniforms because a nervous new crewman dumped cocoa in it. He winds up on a shuttlecraft with Q, who explains he has been exiled from the Q Continuum. He wants to join the crew because he fears Picard is about to encounter dangers beyond his ability to handle.

Q transports Picard back to the Enterprise. They wind up in Ten Forward where he and Guinan have a strange confrontation in which they make these threaten gestures with their hands like they are fondling invisible boobs. Picard is intrigued by the prospect of studying Q, but thinks he is too impish to have around. Q decides to show him how unwise his refusal is by throwing the ship 7,000 light years--three years travel time to the nearest Starbase--away.

Picard decides as long as they are stranded in an unexplored place, they should look around. They discover a number of planets with gaping craters much like the ones left behind in Federation and Romulan space at the end of the first season. Then they encounter a Borg cube for the first time.

A Borg invades engineering and explores the technology itself with the ttpical obliviousness to all other beings around it. Picard, ever the diplomat, tries to open a dialogue right up until the Borg accesses the computer. He then allows Worf to blow the heck out of it. A second Borg appears to finish the job, oblivious to the corpse of his colleague on the floor. It has already adapted to the pfasers, so Worf does not get the chance to blast this one into oblivion.

The Borg go on the offensive because they have apparently decided the enterprise is technology worthy of taking. They drain the shields and carve out a section of the ship, killing eighteen people. A phaser blast from the Enterprise halts the attack. For whatever inexplicable reason, Picard decides to sit there, sans shields, in front of the cube to have a conference on what to do next. You would think he would want to get a safe distance away while he has the chance. Evidently not.

Q shows up at the staff officers meeting. For the first time, Q acts like I would expect an omnipotent, nonchalantly cruel character to act. In his previous two appearances, he has acted up like Jim Carrey on a sugar high. Here he is subdued, almost diabolical, as he lets it sink in just how much desperate trouble the crew is in. He very easily could have been more over the top, but it would have ruined the tense, claustrophobic feel of the episode.

Speaking of claustrophobic, Picard decides to send an away team over instead of running off like he most certainly should. The away mission is one of the most chilling scenes in TNG. It has lost much impact now, but the first time I saw the narrow corridors with Borg wandering about completely ignoring the away team, the sense of their insignificance was creepy. The scene where they arrive in the usury still holds up today. Back then, there was the implication Borg were born human and received robotic implants. Creepy enough, but now you can look at it as human babies kidnapped by the Borg for assimilation. Yeesh.

They realize the cube is repairing itself and beam back before it can resume attacking the Enterprise. Now Picard decides to move, but it is too late. There is no way they can defeat the Borg, so Picard has to grovel for Q and admit he needs him. Q accepts and sends the ship back to it original location. But now the Borg will be coming. That is a story for the third season finale.

Remember I said this was all more about Q than the Borg? Think about this. We see in future episodes the Q Continuum does not just expel troublemakers to ram free using their powers as they wish. I think Q was lying about being booed ot of the Continuum. His intention here was a test of Picard. Recall in “Hide and Q,” they had an exchange over Hamlet‘a tale told by an idiot” speech in which Picard told q that humanity had advanced beyond petty concerns to its utmost nobility. Think about the results of what Q has done subsequently in “Q Who?” the Borg are going to kidnap Picard, assimilate him, and use him to destroy the Federation. The ordeal is going to lead to psychological problems for Picsrd to the point he becomes as obsessed with the Borg as Ahab was with Moby Dick. Thus, in a way, Q’s actions lead to disproving Picard’s arrogant assumption of his triumph over human pettiness.

Nothing was planned out that far, of course, but the threads are there if you care to weave them together.

I cannot give “Q Who?” five stars because of some lapses in logic. There was no good reason for the Enterprise to remain near the Borg ship while it was disabled, particularly after eighteen crewmen were killed. The new character of Ensign Gomez was introduced, but she did not resonate at any point, so she went the way of the do do bird. She was clumsy doofus here, yet given the all important task of bringing the shields back online. A big task considering Picard has them just sitting there in the interim. Otherwise, this is one of the best of the second season.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Pen Pals"

Remember the mantra I have repeated since my TOS reviews that Trek never does episodes centered on children well? I think “Pen Pals” is the sole exception in all forty years of the final frontier. It would pain me too much to admit the constant does not hold, so I am going to call this one a data-centric episode instead. The little girl, Sanjenka, is a catalyst for a character study of data, whom kids seem to get attached to easily, and a a more mature moral debate over the Prime directive than what we have seen before. Wesley saves the day, too, without being the obnoxious wedgie in the lock room waiting to happen he normally is.

The Enterprise is investigating geological disturbances in a sector of planets which no manned ship has ever visited. These planets are self-destructing due to crystalline growths underneath the surface. Wesley is put incharge of a geological survey team to study the phenomenon.

In the meantime, Data inadvertently answers a call from a little girl who has no idea there is life on other planets. He keeps up a conversation with her for six weeks. When he realizes her planet is about to suffer the same geological disaster as the others, he pleads with Picard to intervene.

A debate among the senoir officers ensues regarding fate, moral clarity, and intervention. It is one of the few times in Trek the concept of a Grand Plan might exist, although God is never mention as the originator of that plan. It is fate for an entire planet to day or is the fact the Enterprise just happens to be there with the capability of saving the planet a sign the grand plan requires them to intervene?

It is an interesting debate, one I have , as a good Calvinist, had on a number of occasions. But it falls by the wayside here as the discussion turns to the purpose of the Prime Directive. It is supposed to prevent the Federation from becoming involved in internal matters of non-warp cultures.

Here is where I think Picard’s rationale goes wrong. He is one who does not want to intervene at all because he does not know where to draw the line. Should they intervene in a war or overthrow a brutal dictatorship committing genocide? Obviously no. . Data, Pulaski, and Troi want to intervene because they argue there is a moral certainty involved. The planet will be destroyed in a natural disaster. I agree with their argument. If the prime Directive is supposed to prevent the contamination of cultures from outsiders, how can a race that is about to be destroyed be considered contaminated when the Enterprise can act anonymously?

Picasrd decides no up until he hears Sanjenka calling for Data. He realizes she is making a plea for help. He decides he has to answer the call.

The solution comes rather pat. Data inconveniently has to bring Sanjeska onboard. He decided to do so solely because she was alone and scared. It probably was not necessary, but it is a neat character moment for Data. Throughout the episode, he was learning more about friendship than he has ever demonstrated before. The process was more than just him running through a string of social obligations for which he is programmed. Indeed, he will prove to be incredibly socially awkward at times in the future. He has built up a genuine relationship with Sanjeska. It comes naturally.

It is a bit disturbing that her memories of data and the Enterprise are wiped under Picard’s orders, but much less so than allowing for genocide under some principle that non-intervention to prevent a race of people from being wiped out is aiding in their natural development. Picard still cannot hide his hatred for children. It was kind of nasty for o’Brien to refer to Sanjeska as an “it,” as well. I guess those two know kids and trek do not mix well.

On a final note, I am confident it was established in TOS’ “The Paradise Syndrome” the Prime Directive does not apply when a pre-warp race can be saved without them knowing the federation intervened. If so, that negates the whole moral argument here. Data never told Sanjeska who or where he was. As far asshe knew, he was another member of her race. But it would rip the heart out of the story if that moral conflict was not there, so I am going to overlook it.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Icarus Factor"

“The Icarus Factor” is further proof all the best cowboys have daddy issues. When Riker is offered the command of yet another ship, a civilian attaché comes to the Enterprise to brief him. Unbeknownst to him, the attaché is his estranged father whom he has not seen in fifteen years. Worse yet, he learns his father used to date Pulaski. Kyle Riker obviously has some issues with emotional distance and probably untreated cataracts to think that ice queen bitty was ever a fine catch.

Riker and his father fight the entire time they are working together. In some respects, Riker’s doubts about the promotion to captain are a repulsion to his father. If it is his father getting him acclimated to the new command, then obviously the new command must be a bad thing. There is definitely ego getting in the way. The argument that finally convinces Riker to turn down the job is the prestige he receives from serving on the Enterprise. There is more glory to that than researching the possibility of microscopic life in some backwater system.

But the situation between his father and him cannot go unresolved, so they challenge each other to the ancient martial art and American Gladiators staple of beating each other with giant q-tips. Kyle defeats his son with an illegal move he has always used to win. Riker realizes his father has been cheating on these years. We have “A Boy Named Sue” moment and all is well.

The side story involves one of the rare occasions when his human friends encourage Worf to engage in Klingon rituals. This time around, it is the tenth anniversary of Worf’s age of Ascension. It is kind of like a bar mitzvah, but it this one, John Tesh dresses like a Klingon and jabs you with a pain stick. It is a gruesome sequence, but truly alien and, for once, not looked down upon for being so.

I try to appreciate TNG episodes that emphasize character development as much as possible. They do not come around often. I would appreciate this one more but for two problems. One, Riker lectured a Klingon just a handful of episodes ago about refusing to see his father at the same time he has not seen his own in fifteen years. The continuity error is a failure of the story editor to catch, but it makes Riker look like a hypocrite, not to mention reinforces the Trek constant that humans know best even if they do not follow their own ideals.

Two, it is way too early in the series to start offering Riker a command. He is supposed to be on the Enterprise for the run of the series. We have gone less than a season and a half, but we already but he has already turned down two commands. This will not be the last time he refuses one, either. The powers that be should have stopped that plot point to make it more plausible Riker would stay a commander for seven years. At it is, he looks weak. Timidity does not fit in with the rest of his character.

The saving grace is the Worf story. It was good to his friends sharing a special event with him they certainly have no interest in, save their care for him.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Time Squared"

Wherein we learn Picard secretly hates himself. You just knew all that arrogance was compensating for self-loathing.

The Enterprise finds a shuttlecraft adrift in space. When they retrieve it, they discover it is not only one of theirs, but there is a duplicate Picard on board. He is catatonics and, according to Troi, has little emotion. This other Picard is from the future. For some reason, he abandoned the Enterprise before it was destroyed. But why?

That is the question for at least part of the episode. The mystery aspect does not last long to begin with, but gets lost even more quickly under the side story of Picard’s irritation with his future self. The future Picard is weak, disoriented, and afraid. In other words, everything Picard ought not be, so the real Picard is on the verge of slapping him around even when his poor twin is nearly autistic. Certainly, Picard is motivated to find out what eventually happens to the ship, but it is clear his biggest concern is the perceived cowardice of his future self for abandoning the ship.

A time vortex opens near the ship before any real answers are found. The future Picard recovers greatly as the Enterprise is sucked in. The vortex is actually an entity that perceives Picard as the ship’s brain and wants him. So Picard actually left the ship to sacrifice himself for his crew. This answer does not satisfy the real Picard much. He decides to break the cycle by killing his future self to end the cycle. Presumabl, to also punish him for showing thecrew hecan be a weak, babbling mess, too. He certainly cannot have that.

The resolution of the time vortex story is some odd science fiction concept not worth talking about, but the plan works. The cycle is broken.

This episode was originally supposed to lead into “Q who” with Q revealed as the creator of the vortex. We can only guess if that would have improved the story. As it is, the idea of an entity creating a time vortex as an update of Priscilla and Carbides did not sing for me. If the two Picards story was meant to humanize the captain, it did not do much towards that, either. It just emphasized the fact he is still an arrogant jerk with a long way to go before episodes like “Family,” “Darmok,” and “Tapestry” make him a multidimensional, more human character.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Royale"

Keith Mills is a pseudonym used by Tracy Torme to disavow a script he feels has been altered too far from his original vision. Torme used it on “The Royale” to express his disapproval of the changes made by Maurice Hurley. I do not blame him. I would not want my name on a clunker like “The Royale,” either.

I have no idea which material is Hurley’s and which is Torme’s, but I have a hunch hurley, who has been maligned by a number of TNG writers for being a hack, probably is only partly to blame for the episode’s poor execution. The basic plot involves a holographic (at least we assume holographic. No explanation is given.) representation of an old earth setting in which our heroes are trapped. It sounds a lot like Torme was trying to copy his success with the Peabody Award winning “The Big Goodbye” from the first season. The mark was missed by a country mile, either by him or by Hurley’s rewrites.

I think the story had to be doomed from the beginning. The aliens who created this fake environment for the surviving astronaut based it on a cheap dime store novel famous for being loaded with cliché. Therefore, the drama of the episode has to be full of cliché by definition. Add to that trek cliches like an entire society built around a book, characters knowing incredibly obscure knowledge, such as at what time period the American flag had 52stars, at the same time they are unfamiliar with things like elevator buttons in order to operate them, and you have a mess.

Seriously, can you tell me when the American flag had, say, 34 stars? I am a history buff and I can only guess and I do not have three hundred additional years of historical facts to dig it out from. Then again, Riker can quote Sun Tzu fro memory, so maybe he just has a knack for facts. Since he Data, and Worf were baffled momentarily by up and down buttons on an elevator, though, perhaps they are all idiot savants. It certainly makes their inherent sense of superiority over contemporary 20th-21st century people a joke.

I will confess the part that makes them look the dumbest was unintentional. When riker, Data, and word try to leave through a revolving door, they just spin through. It would have been nothing for the special effects crew to make it look like they were entering at the same time they were leaving, but no. It just look like they do not know how to use a revolving door. The scene reminds me of that Farside, cartoon with the kid pushing on the door the the school for gifted children when a sign above him says pull.

But all that is window dressing. How is the plot? Implausible, I would say. First, why would an away team enter a revolving door in the middle of a deserted planet when the ship’s scanners cannot even tell it is there? Once they are stuck, there is no discernible way out until data figures out the novel keeps playing out, presumably over and over again. So they decide to participate.

Using Data’s android skills to cheat at rolling dice, they buy the hotel like in the novel, which allows them to escape. But if the novel has played out over and over again for three centuries, has that not happen thousands upon thousands of times already? Why is it the simulation ends on this particular time? Just because there is an additional factor of new characters should not matter. If it did, surely the astronaut trapped here for years would have stumbled across some way of changing things himself. Or maybe he did. There was still no way for him to leave the planet even if he did find a way out the casino. Bah. Who cares? It is all mind bogglingly dumb.

There is nothing about “The Royale” to recommend it. The idea of aliens creating an environment for a wayward astronaut was done better by Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick. There is no logical reason the away should be able to escape by playing ut the novel since it has been playing out by itself for three hundred years. The holographic characters are supposed to be stereotypes like the load mouthed Texan and the dumb blond in love with a mob boss, but none of them are fun to watch. It is just bad all around.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Contagion"

The Romulans finally show up after their return in “The Neutral Zone,” ywt are not the main villains of the episode. Instead, it is a computer virus from a long dead civilization. Weird how that turns out, no?

The Enterprise comes to the aid of the Yamato, a ship that entered the neutral zone under the assumption it had discover the ancient Iconian civilization with all its mythic ability to appear anywhere in the galaxy. The Yamato is stranded above the planet with major recurring malfunctions. The ship is destroyed right in front of the Enterprise, but not before its infected database is downloaded into the computer. The Enterprise begins suffering the same type of malfunction.

A similarly infected Romulan war bird appears, conveniently trapping a just arrived away on the planet because the shields are raised preventing a beam out. Theaway team discovers the Iconians used technology in order to open portals to different words so they could travel anywhere .in an instant. Picard decides the technology has to be destroyed before it can fall into Romoulan hands. He probably laments this is the neutral zone, so the Federation cannot claim the technology for itself, but this being trek, the instinct the captain always goes with is to blow stuff up.

Data is accidentally infected by the computer program, too. He appears to die, but actually shuts himself down to purge thevirus, then restart his program clean. This technique would also work perfectly for the Enterprise, though no one ever thought about trying it in the seven hours the ship has been deteriorating. Obviously, no one onboard has ever had to CTRl + ALT + DELETE their hard drives before. Does the blue screen of death not exist in the 24th century?

Picard blows up the portal technology, the Enterprise reboots, and for good measure, the technique is shared with the Romulans who also do not use a Microsoft operating system.

“Contagion” is a good episode. Nothing groundbreaking, but a fun adventure. I found it odd how emotionless the crew was to watch the Yamato be destroyed, particularly consider Picard and its captain were supposedly old friends. Trek typically handles death in a casual manner, but you would think watching a thousand people die right before your eyes would have more impact than just being an excuse to go to commercial. Doubly so that it is glossed over there are children on board. But the script does not dwell on that, so neither will I.

The iconian portals will make a reappearance in the fourth season of DS9 when the Jem Hadar attempt to use them to invade the Alpha Quadrant. Worf takes part in a mission to stop them and mentions the events of “Contagion.” Nifty bit of continuity there. The Iconian portals also show up in the novel crossover Gateways. The novels are not canon, however. Probably a good thing, as I believe Archer took part in that series. Very tainted, I imagine.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Dauphin"

Wesley falls in love with a pretty girl who turns out to be a slobbering monster. He is lucky. Usually, you have to marry a woman before you find out she is actually a vicious creature aiming to rip your throat out if the toilet seat is left up. If only Wesley could have turned into a monster, too. Then they not only could have wound up happy together, but befriended a donkey that sounds a lot like Eddie Murphy.

The Enterprise is escorting Salia, an exiled leader, and her guardian, Anya, back to her war torn home planet Her return is supposed to bring a lasting peace, but when ahe spots Wesley, that plan goes out the window. He is smitten with her, too, like I imagine he would be anything female who can look past his Steve Urkel qualities.

Anya looks to be little more than a nanny figure to Salia, fretting over how unsafe the ship is. After Pulaski refuses to kill a sick patient in order to protect Salia fro illness, she reveals herself to be the creature pictured above. Oh, boy. Yet another chance Pulaski may die a horrible, bloody death. No such thing, though. Darn. Worf battles Anya into a stalemate.

Meanwhile, Wesley, after bad sex advice from Riker and Worf, starts macking on Salia. To the surprise of everyone in the audience, she wants to stay on the Enterprise With him. They smooch.

While Wesley presumably changes his underwear, Anya refuses to allow the budding romance. Picard forbids Wesley to see Salia, too. But she sneaks out to see him in his room. Anya finds her there. Salia finally turns into a monster, too, and they battle each other. Over Wesley.

Wesley is hurt over the deception or that he has to wait three more seasons for Ashley Judd to show up. I am not certain exactly which. Salia and Anya leave while wesley goes back to his science projects. Is that not just the way? He finally finds a girl who thinks he is great and she turns out to be Gossamer from Loony Tunes.There is nothing fundamentally wrong with this episode, but there is not much to recommend it, either. Even the one of two Wesley fans out there have to be disappointed with how his character is treated here. Heck, I cannot stand him and I still felt sympathy.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Measure of a Man"

“The Measure of a Man” is the first Tng episode I am going to award five stars. It is one of my favorites for several reasons. For one, it was an unsolicited script from Melinda Snodgrass when she was a lowly production assistant. Ask any aspiring, agent-less writer and they will tell you that is like catching lightning in a bottle. It is catching two lightning bolts in the same bottle when the script is as good as this one was. I give Snodgrass the highest possible praise here, both because of her accomplishments here and because my review for her second outing will put her in a fetal position sucking her thumb therefore I want her to have a good memory to hold onto in the interim.

The courtroom action in “The Measure of a Man” is pure Hollywood fantasy. There is no way a trial would have been done immediately without data being given adequate defense counsel and an experienced prosecutor instead of forcing Picard and Riker into the roles. The JAG’s demand for an immediate trial without lawyers or Data is automatically subject to disassembly would be grounds to overturn a decision against him anyway, so the set up is false drama. But I can overlook that because of the fascinating question at the heart of the story and a major parallel for a Supreme Court case three years after this episode aired.

The plot is straightforward. A cynernetics expert named Maddox wants to take Data apart to study him. Data refuses because Maddox has not perfected his work, so he does not believe he can be put back together again properly. Maddox insists Data cannot refuse because he is a machine and therefore the property of Starfleet. The dispute results in a trial to determine whether Data is a sentient being who can make his own choice or a machine with no more rights than a toaster.

Riker as the prosecution makes a convincing case, even doing the proper lawyer move of automatically requesting summary judgment because Data is unquestionably a machine. Riker subsequently removes Data’s arm and finally huts him off completely. Picard is dejected during recess until he speaks to Guinan. She tells him that if ignoring Data’s right to choose would be tantamount to slavery.

Picard goes back to the courtroom to argue that people are also created by their parents, yet are not owned by them. This being trek, there is no room for the theological argument for free will granted by God, but since iam a good Calvinist who understands free will and God’s omniscience cannot be reconciled, I will let that slide.

Under cross examination, Picard dissects Maddox’s criteria for sentience. Maddox declares the three criteria are intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness. Data is clearly intelligent. He knows what and where is is as well as his current predicament, so he is self-aware. That leaves consciousness.

Consciousness is a metaphysical term that philosophers have debated from the beginning. What one believes about the nature of consciousness is a matter of personal philosophical or theological leanings regarding the existence of the soul. The JAG recognizes such a decision is beyond the ability of the court to determine to determine whether Data or anyone else has a soul. It has to remain a personal choice, therefore Data should get to choose for himself. He does by refusing to be disassembled, but opts to work with Maddox in other ways.

The logic of this fictitious case reappears three years later when Planned Parenthood v. Casey was ruled upon by the Supreme Court. Casey was the last best chance to repeal Roe, but as what is possibly an urban legend goes, a law clerk convinced Justice Kennedy to change his mind at the last minute. But that is not the relevant point.

The majority decision was written by Justice O’Connor. You can read decision if you wish. the gist of O’Connor’s argument is the metaphysics of when life begins is beyond the scope of the Court to determine just like the JAG ruled in “The Measure of a Nan.” However, the result went tragically in the opposite direction. Since when the existence of the soul is beyond the Court’s determination, the freedom to kill unborn children should continue. You see, it is good to err on the side of caution for fictional androids, but aborting unborn children can be done without conscience.

I am going to come back to the moral of this episode and Casey because of Snodgrass’ second script for TNG, “Up the Long Ladder,” which I hinted at above as holding a special animosity for me. Snodgrass has gone on the record as writing that script as a love song to pro-choice advocacy. In that episode, clones of the crew are made without their consent. In spite of them being alive, they are destroyed with a my body, my choice argument. Bear in mind what she advocated about data’s consciousness versus what she is going to advocate then and you will figure out why I despise the latter so much. Wait for that review. It is a dozy.

Rating; ***** (out of 5)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"A Matter of Honor"

The second season is when Riker becomes the swashbuckling hero who finally convinces us Starfleet would continuously promote to captain as opposed to just telling us that is who he is during the first season and hoping we will take the writers’ word for it. It does become difficult to do as he refuses four separate commands (In “Death Wish,” it is revealed Riker was offered Command of Voyager before Janeway.) yet chooses to stay in his cushy Enterprise position.

One may argue he was angling for Picard’s spot, but consider the way the military works. The entire purpose of serving as an officer is to gain experience for the next, higher rank. The military drums out those who cannot or will not cooperate with that. If riker had refused promotion for seven years in the US Navy--to say nothing of the fifteen years he remained a commander--he would have been looking for another line of work in no time.

I understand for the sake of drama they wanted to keep him on the show for the entire run. In many ways, he filled the Kirk role for TNG while Picard created an all new type of captain. That is, by the way, one of the big reasons I have never participated in a Kirk versus Picard debate. The two of them may have different styles, but when a brash, Kirk-like response was needed, there was Riker to pull it off. But I digress. My complaint is they should have not made it clear right off the bat Starfleet was eager to promote Riker but he kept refusing. The timid reaction to working without a net does not fit with the rest of his personality.

There will be will plenty of chances to discuss that later. For now, Riker is eager to participate in an officer exchange program with the Klingon ship Pagh. The Enterprise is also participating. They get a Benzite named Merdon who is an arrogant know it all, but eager to please. You may recall a Benzite was chosen over Wesley to enter Starfleet Academy in “Coming of Age“ even toughed not score swell. For whatever reason, Starfleet is hyper to affirmative action Benzites into key positions. Merdon messes up protocol, nearly causing a ship-to-ship battle with the Pagh, so one could argue Merdon was in over his head. Somehow, I suspect his screw up was an existential critique of affirmative action, sort of like how Barack Obama’s mention of the post office’s inefficiency is an argument against government run health care.

Merdon’s story is only a contrivance to create eventual conflict for Riker. The heart of the story is the thawing of the cold war between the humans and klingons just as the real Cold War was sputtering to an end. The big picture was not presented until Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country<. This was a more personal story. A bit heavy-handed at times, such as when both riker and the Klingons express surprise each has a sense of humor. It reminded me of Ayn Rand’s Congressional testimony in which she claimed the Soviets never smiled. At least the TNG exchange had some historical allegory. Not that Maurice Hurley is a fan of Ayn Rand. Or ever heard of her, for that matter. He did move on to Baywatch and Baywatch Nights after this. Neither was a bastion of philosophical thought outside of wondering why Pamela Anderson carried a floatation device when shehad those boobs which probably work much, much better.

Note the irony that one of the klingons says he refuses to see his father because he was a POW of the Romulans who was not allowed to die an honorable death. He is home, alone, set to die as a weak, old man. Riker scolds the Klingon for not wanting to see his father even though it will be revealed a few episodes later Riker is estranged from his father, too. The exchange makes Riker look like a hypocrite. Surely the subsequent episode was already planned at this point. There was an opportunity to foreshadow Riker’s difficulties with his father, but instead the usual motif of humans lecturing aliens for practicing their culture rears its ugly head.

What makes that even stranger is riker is expected to abide by the Klingon tradition of a first officer’s duty to kill the captain if he becomes weak or ineffective. So Riker and Starfleet are going to abide by a tradition of murdering the incompetent, yet are upset by different family dynamics. The former does not offend their sensibilities, but the latter does? Unreal. It does come up as a plot pit when Riker has the captain beamed to the Enterprise in order to take over the ship. It is a plan to avoid a conflict when the captain believes his ship has been sabotaged when, in fact, is infected by a corrosive organism. One wonders how the captain’s capture does not dishonor him since he is supposed to be killed by tradition, but I will let that one go.

I liked this episode. Like “Day of the Dove” in TOS, it expands upon the Klingons as being more than just gereneric, warlike bad guys. Riker, too, finally comes into his own as a tough, cunning character. I do not much buy into the notion “A Matter of Honor” was meant for us to sympathize with Worg since Riker’s experience on the Pagh is allegedly Worf’s daily experience on the Enterprise. It is made clear Worf struggles to be a Klingon because has become so ingrained in him. He is only praised when he adoptts human characteristics. That is pretty much what Riker insisted the Klingons on the Pagh do, as well.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Unnatural Selection"

A Pulaski centric episode? Dear God, how did we anger You so? “Unnatural Selection” is bad in so, so many ways beyond Pulaski serving as the focus of the plot. In fact, the idea she might die a horrible death in the only ray of hope in the Pulaski Circle of Hell in which Trekkies find themselves trapped for the second season.

There are three big problems with “Unnatural Selection.”

First, the plot is a copy of TOS’ “The Deadly Years’ in which a disease causing premature aging infects the main crew. So much for originality. I would give “Unnatural Selection” some kudos for not having the cure for the disease miraculously revert sufferers back to their normal age through a regular medical procedure like in the TOS episode, but I cannot since the solution that (unfortunately) saves Pulaski boggles the mind in its continuity bursting.

The crew decides to save her by beaming her out of quarantine and reforming her with a pattern of her body before she had the disease. Which begs the question--why do they not do that with everyone who has contracted a disease? Forget time and money wasted on medical research. Just send them through a transporter. They will be good as new and looking a few years younger, to boot.

Oh, wait. We learn in “Rascals” the trasporter can be a fountain of youth, too. Neither trick will be used again.

All that is needed to pull this miracle cure off is a DNA sample from a time before infection. Crewmembers frantically rummage through Pulaski’s quarters before finding a folicle on her hairbrush.. Look, if I had to go through the woman’s underwear drawer in order to save her, she is doomed.

Second, the space station infected with the aging disease in experimenting on the genetic engineering of children. Ignore for a moment there is a ban on genetic engineering in all of Trek which was established in “Space Seed”--arguably the most famous episode of TOS. Ignore because the writer obviously had no problem doing so. (the episode was heavily rewritten by Maurice Hurley, who got his job by being Gene Roddenberry’s drinking buddy and not hiswriting skills. Witness Baywatch Nights if you do not believe me. Think instead about the implications of what the scientists are doing.

The scientists are engineering a race of children, who seem a little off, by the way, with psychic powers such as telekinesis. Does that not strike anyone as even more dangerous than making supermen like Khan? The experiments are being done on a remote space station as though they are trying to keep the experiments a secret. Presumably, the air of illicitness is unintentional, but how could the powers that be miss it?

Before you answer that question, think about the following. the character of Dr. Kingslwey was originally to be named Dr. Mendel in honor of Dmitri Mendelev, the inventor of the periodic table of elements. The name Mendel was nixed because because it sounded too much like Mengele, the Nazi scientist interested in, among other things, genetically engineering a master race by experimenting on Jewish children.

The station was also named after Darwin, so the whole process is supposed to have a feel that it is all in the natural process of evolution. It amazes me how Trek can be so stupidly idealistic in one moment and then so draconian fascist in the next.

Finally, ’Unnatural Selection” is an episode about Pulaski, so it has to be bad just out of general principle. The beginning scenes involve Picard and Troi discussing whether Pulaski is the right choice for Chief Medical Officer because of her attitude. He was most certainly expressing exactly what fans were thinking. Diana Muldaur hated working in science fiction and it shows here. The agied make up job was the final straw for her. She decided this would be her only season. Weare all thrilled by her decision.

Now if you will excuse me, I am going to go douse my remaining eye with holy water to purge the evil.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Loud as a Whisper"

“Loud as a Whisper’ is another episode that has its heart in the right place, but it isso condescendingly dumb, I cannot take it seriously. See if you can keep count of all the inanities.

The Enterprise is set to escort a mediator named Riva who specializes in difficult peace negotiations to Solaris V, a planet which has been at war for generations. Worf expresses a passive aggressive contempt at the mere mention of Riva. Turns out he is the one who negotiated peace between the Klingons and the Federation. There was no Klingon word for peace before Riva. That is implausible enough, but since worf is a member of Starfleet rather than the Klingon Defense force, is not rather odd he hates the idea there is peace between the two? A wee bit on the self-loathing side, are we?

Riva arrives with his entourage in tow, dressed like the William Miller’s Seventh day Adventists waiting for Jesus’ definite return on October 22, 1844. Riva and his assistants will even wind up waiting on a hilltop later in the episode for the warring parties to arrive. Not that I am drawing a connection. I am just on a comparative religions kick at the moment thanks to some of Project savior's expressed expertise on religion in the comments here lately.

Riva is deaf. His assistants are able to relay his communications because each is in tune with a specific aspect of his personality. The three can communicate Riva’s exact thoughts automatically. The deafness and psychic abilities are explained through genetic predisposition. The aliens, like so many others, show an astounding knowledge of what to them would be esoteric Earth history by revealing the condition is like how hemophilia ran through the Hanover family in Europe. I so wanted Picard to remark, ’Oh, you mean like the Reemounk disorder that made the Stamhard family hum Styx songs on Remulak before it was cured eight hundred years ago?” but no such luck.

The worst bit was when one of the assistants asked LaForge about his VISOR. He told her it lets him see. She cheerfully chirps she helps the disabled Riva in the same way. Wow, so both us otherwise worthless cripples do not have to be euthanized? Gee, thanks. Surely there are other places in desperate need of your sunshiny enlightenment right now. Why not go locate one of them?

But on to the mission. Thewarring parties have been fighting so long, they do not even remember why they are fighting. Land, resources, a blood feed. Who knowsat this point. The message is that all war is senseless, but all I could think was the joke from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where they have figured out the meaning of life is 43, but no one can remember the specific question. I am just not in tune with the idealism here.

A peace conference is arranged, but a traitor attempts to kill Riva. He ails, but he manages to--conveniently for the plot--kill all three of his assistants. Riva beams back to the ship in safety. The peace process, such that it is, is in jeopardy.

Now comes the most awful part of the episode. Riva is angrily pacing back and forth, unable to communicate. Picard grasps his hand and reassures him they are all in this together--by speaking very loudly. Riva is deaf. It would not matter if Picard said anything at all since it is aplot point Riva cannot read lips, either. You see, his assistants were a crutch. Without them, the disabled Riva is useless. Great message, there. With Picard patronizing him, to boot.

The solution they all come up with is to leave Riva behind to teach everyone sign language. It will help them bond before negotiating peace. Or strangle rivaandthen start killing each other in frustration, whichever is more likely.

I have never liked this episode. There is too much misguided commentary in it to be enjoyable. If anyone can tell me what the message was here, feel free. I fund it doubly insulting that not only was the disabled guy dismissed in spite of his accomplishments by showing how ineffective he was without lots of help, he is still the one to negotiate peace between factions too stupid to know why they are fighting. After Riva’s emergency beam ot, one even calls out to him like a child crying for his mommy to save him. Riva is a human and, worthlessly crippled or not, is still better than a filthy alien. Ugh.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Outrageous Okona"

I have never been a fan of “The Outrageous Okona.” There is something off about it. The main story is supposed to be an homage to Romeo and Juliet, but Okona does not fit into the allegory very well. The side story with data learning about humor has ts heart in the right place, but is so unfunny, I wind up feeling sorry for him rather than amused.

I am curious whether Okona was an attempt to create a recurring Harry Mudd type character for TNG. There are similarities. Okona is a a roguish ladies man, but hinted to be a con man the crew should be cautious with. He is plausibly framed for knocking up the daughter of an important poobah and stealing some jewel, but is exonerated when we learn a member of a rival family did both deeds. At no point is any doubt given okona could have done both those things, so the groundwork was there for further misadventures. I am happy there wound up not being any.

One of the reasons I speculate Okona might have become a regular character is Billy Campbell was the second choice to play Riker. It sounds plausible they would try to find a way to make him a semi-regular part of the series. They could have done a better job. I have enjoyed Campbell in The Rocketeer and one of my favorite Civil War movies Gods & Generals, Okona did not suit him.

Data’s quest to learn humor was painful to watch, particularly since Brent Spiner is quite the comedic actor. Consider most of my disdain a personal prejudice based on the choice of comedian playing his advisor. Because when you think side splittingly funny, you certainly think Joe Piscapo. Perhaps he has a bad rep because he was stranded in the awful Dick Ebersol years of Saturday Night Live, but I cannot help but think a more plausible comedian could have been hired.

Kevin Pollack, Dennis Miller, Eddie Murphy, Tom Hanks, and Robin Williams are all professed Trek fans who would have been better suited for the role. Murphy, Hanks, and Williams have all been offered rolesat one time or another, but turned them down for other acting jobs. I would rather not think TNG is such a lowly show, Piscapo is the best guy they could get to appear.

A mediocre episode at best. Data is annoying. Wesley’s man crush on Okona is irritating, too. But there is one very good point--Pulaski does not appear! I was hoping she had fallen down an elevator shaft in between episodes, but no such luck. She will be back tomorrow. Bummer.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Elementary, Dear Data"

“Elementary, Dear Data” shares a unique distinction with yesterday’s episode ’Where Silence Has Lease.” Both are stereotypical TNG episodes, with the latter a bottle episode and the former a holodeck gone wrong story. Generally speaking, holodeck stories are bad simply because they exist in the first place. Why is it that you have a ship of explorers in outer space who can encounter any alien, phenomenon, or situation limited only by the imagination of the writers, but they have too use a recreational hologram device for stories? It is lazy and unimaginative. But when it works, it works. Here, it works.

The episode is most certainly an attempt to recapture the appeal of the Peabody Award winning “The Big Goodbye” from the first season. This time around, it is Data playing out his literary fantasy of Sherlock Holmes with LaForge as dr. Watson. It is safe to assume my fondness for the episode and my overlooking its status as a holodeck gone wrong story is due to data being my favorite character. The fact Pulaski ran the risk of being killed off by Moriarty was a bonus. Too bad she survived. Nineteen more episodes to go with her….

Pulaski is the true catalyst for the program going haywire. She is the one who, yet again, shows nothing but contempt for Data by claiming he cannot solve a unique mystery in spite of his proving to have the ingenuity to solve all sorts of unique problems since the series began. You can blame Lafarge for his slip of the tongue in ordering the computer to create an opponent capable of defeating Data, rather than Holmes, but I choose to blame Pulaski. If for no other reason than surely she cannot do anything right.

I am overlooking a couple of logical problems in order to like this episode. One, it is established items created on the holodeck have no matter which can exist outside the holodeck. Yet Data carries the drawing of the ship into the corridor before showing it to LaForge. It is done for dramatic effect, but you have to overlook the inconsistency in order to appreciate it. Two, I do not see how a holodeck creation can take over the ship. It makes no sense the computer would willingly create character who could do that in principle, much less action.

Nevertheless, featuring Moriarty as a TNG villain was a masterstroke of inspiration. He would unfortunately not return for another four seasons. The powers that be behind TNG believed Sherlock Holmes was in public domain when they produced “Elementary, Dear Data.” that is not so. Future stories were delayed until a user fee for the characters could be settled upon. “ship in a Bottle’ was the result. I quite like that one, too, but elaboration with have to wait until mid-December or so.

“Elementary, Dear Data’ isa fun episode in spite of a couple logical flaws and the prominence of the much despised Pulaski. We see the beginnings here of Data and LaForge’s bonding. It is the best friendship established on TNG. Notable as well since none of the characters seemed to much like each other in the first season. The resolution was nonviolent and creative., allowing for Moriarty to return later. If only Pulaski had fallen down an elevator shaft or something, the episode would merit a perfect score.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Where Silence Has Lease"

I usually have a tough time enjoying bottle shows, so called because they only use existing sets. A bottle show often means it takes place exclusively on board the Enterprise. The drama mostly comes from dialogue, which in terms of trek, means a lot of techno babble or preaching a social gospel.

“Where Silence Has Lease” is an exception to my usual distaste for bottle shows. It manages to create a claustrophobic feel throughout which is incredibly tense. I consider this an impressive feat considering the Enterprise, with it wall to wall carpeting, bright lights, state of the art computers, holodecks, and bar, feels more like a luxury cruise ship than the submarine the TOS version was. It takes a lot to feel the insulated crew is in any real danger ever, much less when the adversarial character is not introduced until halfway into the fourth act.

The Enterprise is exploring a region of space no manned federation ship has ever been to. The crew encounters a hole in space. Data assures Picard nothing like this has ever been seen before even though Kirk and crew discovered a phenomenon just like it in “The Immunity Syndrome.” It would have been a nice bit of continuity to mention that, but I suppose the writer wanted to keep a sense of mystery.

After exploring the hole a bit, the Enterprise trapped inside the void. Every effort to escape is foiled. A fake Romulan ship attacks and is destroyed. Another Federation ship appears without a crew. Riker and worf explore it, but all sorts of mind games and illusions occur for them while over there. When it becomes clear the crew are literally lab rats in an experiment, Nagilum shows up.

It is his void. He has trapped the ship in order to study humanity. He is particularly interested in the concept of death. How he knows anything about the mortality of humans is odd considering he was unaware of gender differences or procreation. Nagilum decides to experiment by killing members of the crew in every way conceivable in order to discover more about the concept. Conveniently, Nagilum kills the helmsman at the only point in the episode in which Wesley is not manning the station. That was one lucky potty break.

Nagilum’s plan will kill anywhere from a third to half the crew. Picard decides unilaterally to initiate the autodestruct rather than allow crewmembers to be killed off at random. Pulaski and Worf protest that a third or half the crew as casualties is a drastic, but acceptable loss in combat. This is not combat, of course. It is a slaughter, so the principles are probably different. Oddly enough, none of the crew question the decision once the destruct sequence is in place. I find that difficult to believe because I could probably be persuaded to either take my chances randomly dying or sacrifice myself out of general principle depending on the contempt I felt for Nagilum at the time. Why there was not a split of opinion is beyond me. Picard even comments when Nagilum creates copies of Troi and Data to question his decision they would never do something like that.

Nagilum calls the experiment off once he has been satisfied at studying human behavior. He draws the same conclusion every other all powerful, advanced alien does. Humans are barbaric, selfish, violent creatures too far beneath him to mess with. Or, pretty much how the crew felt about the 20th century people they met in “The Neutral Zone.” well, at least they did not kill a helmsman while Wesley was seeing a man about a horse. I will cut them some slack just this once.

Worf has some really good moments here. For once, he is embracing his Klingon ways and beginning his bonding with Riker. The two have their warrior spirits. It is good to see their deep friendship beginning to take shape. I do think worf goes a little overboard with his bestial nature when frustrated or enraged, but that is just because the writers have not found the right balance for him yet.

I cannot forget the annoying Pulaski moment where she comes onto the bridge, refers to Data as “it,” whines to Picard that he does not seem to be following her orders properly, then grumbles back to data she has to accept he is alive even if she does not want to. Ugh. Why could Picard not have just traded her to Naglilum in order to save the crew and us poor viewers who have to sit through anyone twenty episodes of her insufferable attitude? At one point, Nagilum demands someone procreate with her. Pulaski remarks, ‘Not likely.” Honey, that is a galactic understatement. There is a not enough white liquor in the Alpha Quadrant to make you appealing.

“Where Silence Has Lease” is an appealing episode, however. It was a fresh take on the frankly stale concept of an advanced alien testing humanity. The show will thankfully start drifting away from that sort of plot. I am glad they ended it on a high note.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Child"

The second season of TNG is upon us. I consider it several notches above the terribly uneven first season, but the show still has not firing on all cylinders. It was adversely affected by the WGA strike of 1988. Most notably, the episode count was trimmed from 26 episodes down to 22. Some fans might even call it 21, considering the season finale “Shades of Gray” was mostly a clip show. There is no way to know if four additional episodes might have boosted the season, but there were more high points than the first season, including one of my all time favorites. We will get to that one when we get to it.

The responsibility for the improvement from season one to two is difficult to attribute, but whoever is responsible for the greater emphasis on characterizations deserves a medal. Picard is less of an arrogant jerk, Riker begins his swashbuckling hero motif, data is less a walking computer, LaForge is finally given something to do down in engineering, the friendship between he and Data has its beginning, and the fact worf is a Klingon becomes a plot point rather than window dressing. It does not all come together until the third season, but the potential is now obvious.

I am split on the new character additions. Whoopi Goldberg was a fan of the show and requested a recurring role. She became the bartender Guinan, a character which I liked. Now that we see characters enjoying themselves off hours, including seeking guinan’s counsel, they seem more real. I think it is unintentionally revealing the characters often sought counseling from Guinan rather than Troi.

I am certain it was meant to be a play on the idea that bartenders have traditionally lent an ear to depressed patrons, but I like to think it is a jab at Troi. Would you really trusta counselor who can read your emotions without your permission, particularly when at least part of her job is to manipulate new aliens the ship encounters by reading them without their consent? I am still in the Troi is an ill conceived character camp. I do not much care for this episode or any other in which she is the focus.

I absolutely despise Pulaski. She was supposed to stir up the dynamic by being an ill fit, but they went overboard with it. Pulaski has a completely snotty, condescending attitude, particularly towards Data. She lies and manipulates for her own ends. Any time shewas in peril, I was hoping they would off her. She could have fallen down an elevator shaft or something. Diana Muldaur hated being on the show. She could not stand the long hours, odd dialogue, and the long make up hours she occasionally endured. Much of her true attitude probably played out in her character. Good riddance, I say.

All that is about the season as a whole. What about “The Child?”

It sucks. The script was rewritten for the ill fated Star Trek: Phase II series from the ’70’s. whenever a script is intended for one set of character, but transferred to another, something is always lost. In this case, there was nothing character specific going on. The story was a generic alien wants to study humanity and causes a major problem plot. There was no point to it other than attempting to tug at our heart strings by upsetting Troi. Well, I do not care about Troi, so good luck with that.

An alien impregnates Troi in an incredibly disturbing sequence in which she…I will be discreet and say obviously enjoys the nonconsensual act. She gives birth, the child quickly grows older, and then dies. The alien’s action causes a plague to break out, but there are no lasting consequences on the crew or Troi as the alien does his thing, thanks her, and then leaves. It is fascinating to know childbirth and subsequently losing that child has no effect on Troi.

There is nothing to see here other than the characters settling into their new, deeper roles. The drama is maudlin at best without any significant consequences. Surely they could have kicked the season off with a better episode. Indeed, several subsequent episodes are resuses of Star Trek: Phase II scripts. “The Child” is the worst of the bunch.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Neutral Zone"

In my continuing effort to be the Ed Wood of Star Trek critics (Who might be the Simon de Beauvoir?) I have mercifully reached the first season finale of TNG. Like most installments which came before, it is awful.

The biggest reason it is so bad is because of the characterizations, the main crew is back to being such incredibly pompous jerks, it is next to impossible to watch. It does not help much that the main plot involves people from the 20th century being revived in the 24th. In other words, a perfect opportunity for our heroes to flaunt their moral superiority to the backwards barbarians of the late 20th century.

Boy, do they go at it with reckless abandon. In the first place, Riker has command of the bridge when the cryogenics ship is discovered. He wants to leave it be, but data insists they explore it because they, you know, like explorers and stuff. Only three of the four bodies have survived, so Data has them beamed over to the Enterprise. Crusher treats the diseases that initially killed them as Picard comes down to sickbay to chew Data out for bringing them onboard in the first place. They were technically dead and anything from the 20th century ought to stay that way, it would appear. Picard issues strict orders to keep the three away from him while he works to solve the ystery of missing starbases.

I have to mention the plot of the missing starbases should have been the major plot here rather than playing second fiddle to gene Roddenberry’s contempt for contemporary man. The idea is this is supposed to be part of a trilogy which introduced the Borg, but some combination of budget constraints and the WGA strike of 1988 nixed that. As it is, the secondary plot is left dangling, with its only contribution a brief glimpse of the Romulans as they decide to join with Picard in investigating their missing bases and then can the idea all in a twenty second time period. Not particularly auspicious.

Which leaves us with Jane Goodall sneering at the chimps. It pays to note the three revived people are a mousy housewife, a country music singer, and aventure capitalist. Only the latter is in any way annoying and even his arrogant, greedy demeanor is undeserving of the contempt for which they are shown.

For example, after they are settled into quarters, Data remarks to Riker they are unlike any humans he has ever met before. Riker retorts they have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It is a wonder humanity survived the 20th century with them running it That is right. Forget Nazi death camps, Stalin’s pogroms, Mao five year plans, Cold war nuclear chess games, ethnic cleansers from all corners of the planet, and brutal dictators from Latin America to southeast Asia. No, the biggest threat to civilization in the 20th century was Donna Reed, Garth Brooks, and Warren Buffett.

It is impossible to take seriously and, thankfully, one of the last times we will have to sit through such attitudes. Believe me, Picard’s lectures over the evils of capitalism is bad enough to have to sit through only once.

I did not like this episode. I believe TNG would have been better served foregoing this one and ending the season with ‘Conspiracy.” It had a better ending than this awkward return of the Romulans with more promise. That is, assuming the parasites story had ever been followed up on. At least the ending would have given us some suspense about things to come for the second season instead of limping into it like weare ging to do starting tomorrow.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Conspiracy"

My comments on “Conspiracy” are going to sound contradictory, but that is appropriate considering how uneven the first season of Tng is. To sum up, it is the best episode of the first season, yet it is also the biggest missed opportunity. Perhaps even the biggest of the series.

You might even consider it a double miss, depending on your opinion of writer Tracy Torme. His original plan was for their to be a coup among high ranking Starfleet officials as a commentary on the Iran Contra scandal. Gene Roddenberry had kittens over the idea. There was absolutely no way any Starfleet personnel would be involved in a coup. It is, of course, a perfect government. The alien parasites had to be introduced--filthy aliens are always undermining the spread of humanistic socialism--in order to explain the coup.

The parasites were supposed to lead into the introduction of a mechanical, insectoid species that would eventually become the Borg. Cost concerns nixed that idea. The Borg were redesigned for their premiere in the second season to be unconnected to the parasites. The cliffhanger that the queen had sent out a homing signal to their planet asa prelude to invasion remains hanging today.

So we have to measure the end results with what might have been. I like Torme’s writing. He describes himself as a left leaning libertarian , but often avoids direct political commentary in his writing. Witness the first couple seasons of Sliders for evidence of his skill with the philosophical big picture rather rather than ranting over the current political climate. I am not so terribly sure we missed out on anything by nixing the human conspiracy angle. Then again, DS9 did a similar story years later which was one of the best story arcs of the series.

I am disappointed the story of the homing signal was never followed up. For whatever detriments there might have been by the conspiracy being alien in origin, the story was unique in tone and scope. They were a memorably creepy menace who had to be defeated by sheer force rather than talked to death like preachy Trek tends to do. Indeed, Picard and Riker were shoot first and ask questions later throughout the entire conflict. That sort of resolution did not come a minute too soon.I recall my shock at seeing the violence and gore in this episode when it first aired 21 years ago. Not that I am easy to rattle in general, but because it was so un-trek. Much of the problem of Tng’s first season was that it tried to be like TOS without the charm of the original characters. By the end of TOS’s first season, you knew and liked the distinctive characteristics of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. So much so, you wiling to overlook the cheesier aspects of the show.

Not so much with TNG. The characters were awfully bland, so their personalities did not distract from sub par plots. ‘Conspiracy” shook things up by serving as something new and different. What I saw in it was the possibility of TNG establishing its own identity apart from TOS. It isstill far off from this episode--I kick around the idea the late Michael Piller’s addition as a producer in the third season was the catalyst for TNG’s rise--but it was enough to keep me coming back through some awfully low points.

The dangling plot thread still irks me.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"We'll Always Have Paris"

I am completely meh when it comes to “We’ll Always Have Paris.” It tries to do two things: humanize Picard and appeal to the nerdy, true science buffs out there. As one firmly devoted to the social sciences, I cannot comment on the latter because of complete disinterest, but I can say the former could not quite be pulled off. The numerous Casablanca, while trying to set the proper mood, make the bittersweet reunion seem even more forced.

“We’ll Always Have Paris” features Michelle Phillips of the Mommas and the Poppas as Janice, an old flame of Picard’s. he chickened out of a rendezvous with her in paris in his youth and questions what might have been. I do not buy their romance. There was no chemistry between the two. Janice is not very well developed, so we can only guess at who she really is. She does appear uninterested in Picard’s ambition to join Starfleet she sounds as though she cannot believe he chose it over her.

The problem is I can. Picard does not seem like the kind of man interested in the trappings of romance. In later episodes weare going to find out his father was a cold, impossible to please man. The apple did not fall too far from the tree. Picard does not usually realize how much he has missed outon in life until he learns he cannot have it any longer. Witness his emotional breakdown over his brother’s and nephew’s death in Star Trek: Generations. He does not mourn their loss because they will be absent from his life. He has aself-absorbed moment in which he laments not having kids to carry on the family name.

He is being cold about the loss of the family he already had while lamenting not having one of his own almost like a business deal. ’Well, I guess I should have had a child at some point to keep the Picard line going.” That is not the kind of man who engages in a fling with a young woman who could not care less about his ambitions. So I just do not buy it.

Picard is the kind of man who up and realizes he ought to marry his best female friend. That is pretty much what he is on the road to doing with Crusher. Granted, it is peculiar for her to have such an unspoken affection for the man who inadvertently killed her husband, who was also his best friend, but given Picard’s cold demeanor, I doubt it bothers him to romance his best friend’s widow. Or, as was the case here, trot off to the holodeck to create an assignation with Janice while her husband recovers in sickbay.

Trek has a history of immature romantic relationships among characters. One just has to go along with it.

As for the main story of the Enterprise coming to the rescue of Janice’s scientist husband when his experiments with time and other dimensions go awry, meh. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the plot. It just did not sing or dance for me. To be fair, this episode was affected by the WGA strike of 1988. Production was shut down while the ending was written. Surely that caused some of the awkward issues, such as the pat ending in which Data came out of the blue to save the day. In this case, I would just as soon not have Paris.

I cannot pass up the occasion of writing about Michelle Phillips without posting my favorite song from the Mommas and the Poppas. Sure, ‘California Dreaming” is about a Vietnam War draft dodger hiding out in Canada, but I like it anyway:

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Skin of Evil"

We have reached the lowest point of TNG’s first season. It is a bad episode for many reasons, but the most prominent is the poor send off of Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar. Yar suffered an unceremonious death to punctuate a less than stellar character.

The powers that be at Trek have done a fine job keeping set tensions quiet until long after the show has ended. It is one of the reasons the “making of” documentaries and books on VOY were so few and anemic when TOS, TNG, and DS9 got the full treatment. There was so much tension on the set, with Kate Mulgrew hating the show, Robert Beltran hating complaining about obsessive fans, Roxanne Dawson divorcing Casey Biggs, Ethan Phillips upset fans did not like his character, the refusal to allow Garrett Wang to direct an episode (He is the only Trek actor to request a directing and be turned down.) and Jeri Ryan stealing the spotlight at the same time sleeping with Brannon Braga. They just could not keep all that under wraps. No wonder that show was such a mess.

But they have done a fairly good job with the public relations regarding Crosby’s departure from TNG. We can speculate based on what wedo know. The official line is Crosby was upset yar was becoming window dressing like Uhura with little to do. Gene Roddenberry decided he would take the opportunity of her departure to show how dangerous space exploration was and have her killed. In a superficial way, all that is probably true, but it is not the whole story.

Was Crosby upset her character had fallen into the background? Maybe. The third episode, ’Code of Honor,’ was the only episode to focus on her and it was incredibly bad. I would daresay the characters of worf and Geordi LaForge were even less explored than Yar’s, however. Unless Crosby had gone Hollywood believing she deserved to be a bigger star than she was, that is a weak argument.

Look at the character instead. She was poorly written. Particularly early in the season, yar was prone to emotional outbursts, uncalled for violent acts, and some of the most stilted dialogue of any of the characters. When the high point of your character is having drunken sex with an emotionless android, your character is not only undeveloped, but degraded. Falling into the background is the least of it.

Whatever Crosby’s actual motivation, she was unhappy with the role. Roddenberry is not famous for handling friction with his actors well. Witness grace Lee Whitney’s departure from TOS after her alleged sexual assault by a network executive presumed to bea buddy of Roddenberry’s. it would be perfectly reasonable to take the opportunity to kill off a major character to prove space exploration is dangerous, but to suddenly be cast aside violently by a talking oil slick before the second commercial break is a deliberate insult.

Yar’s death is not the main focus of the episode. It literally serves to get rid of Crosby while providing a cliffhanger for the second act. Her death has no meaning. It is true the memorial service that ends the episode is moving, but it is only the character lamenting the loss of life. Yar did not go out in ablaze of glory or sacrifice herself to save anyone else. She was just randomly killed. It was a missed opportunity caused by personal, behind the scenes issues.

But that is not all that makes "Skin of Evil” a disappointment. Armus is an awful character. There is just no way to make a trash bag covered in Metamucil and India ink a plausible villain. If Armus’ sole motivation is leaving the planet, it seems rather stupid to torture the only people who have arrived in heaven only knows how long who can actually take him away. Admittedly, Armus was insane because of his long solitude, but he should still have known he would catch more flies with honey than vinegar. His motivation should have been changed to make his sadistic actions more plausible.

There is another point I hear very little about, but raised my eyebrows. After Armus learns he has killed Yar, he says he gets pleasure from knowing it. He asks Data what he thinks about him being happy over Yar’s death. Data remarks, ’I think you should be destroyed,’ and starts to aim his phaser before Riker stops him. It is a very brief scene, but disturbing. Data has said before he has an ethical program not to injure humans except in defense of others or himself. Yet here he makes an ethical decision to kill a living being he decides has no redeeming value. Chalk it up to a continuity glitch, but is it not disturbing to know data has the capability within his ethical programming of murdering anyone he deems morally irredeemable?

I have rattled on long about “Skin of Evil” without even touching on other absurd moments. Picard replaces Yar with Worf before her body is even cold. Later, he sits and has a philosophical debate with the oil slick that is Armus. Riker does not drown when absorbed into Armus. Why does Troi never get out of her seat to check on the unconscious shuttle pilot/ she is not injured. Yar has only known her crewmates for a few months, yet talks about them in her hologram message as though she has known them for years--at least long enough to get so connected and attached to them they are the most important people in her life ever.

There is so much wrong with this episode, I am sorry the great Joseph Stefano, of The Outer Limits fame, has his name attached to the script. Surely none of this travesty is his fault.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Symbiosis"

It would not be the ‘80’s television show without a morality tale about narcotics. There odd twist is the story is less Miami Vice in space than a Psa against tobacco products. The “bad guys” here are not drug dealers, but merchants selling an addictive, but legal, product to a weaker race in order to keep them on the hook and under control. So it is more a matter of R. J. Reynolds as villains pushing nicotine than Colombian cartels pushing cocaine.

Not that the above situation provides the major conflict. The ethical problem is how the Enterprise crew can help the addicted race, who believe the drug is a cure for a deadly plague, without violating the Prime Directive. This is the first TNG episode in which the crew honestly chews over how best to go about solving a problem without violating the Prime Directive.

In the previous two instances where there was an question of what to do under the Prime directive, “Justice” and ’Angel One,” it was decided to violate the prime directive in order to save lives. I appreciate the more logical, less brash solution here of not allowing the cargo ship to be repaired so the addicted race will face withdrawal symptoms and hopefully kick the addiction.

“Symbiosis” is not the best example of the crew dealing with a moral quandary provided by the Prime Directive, but it is the first TNG example of the conflict resolution not involving a violation with the rationale crew knows better than those filthy aliens values causing the problem.

Two familiar faces appear in ’Symbiosis,” both from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Merritt Buttrick, who played Kirk’s son, David Marcus, played T’Jon here and Judson Scott, Khan’s right-hand man Joachin, played sobi. Sadly, Butrick died two years later of complications due to AIDS. There is some controversy about his death, but many believe he contracted AIDs through the sharing of heroin needles. Bitterly ironic, considering this episode.

“Symboisis” was filmed after “Skin of evil,” so it is technically Denise Crosby’s final episode. If you look closely, you can see her waving goodbye in the background of the final scene.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Arsenal of Freedom"

After three talky episodes, it is good to see an action oriented installment. “The Arsenal of Freedom’ is not very popular among fans for a number of reasons. I will admit its flaws are bothersome myself. But it was so different from most of the rest of the season’s moralizing with little else exciting, the episodes has to be given some props.

If we must talk about flaws, then we must talk about flaws. First, the special effects called for by the script were too ambitious for the time period. The machine pictured above is a flying laser that adapts every single time it is defeated, so the next comes on stronger Think of it as a non-sentient Borg. The CGI was probably impressive during the episode’s first airing, but not so much now. Neither is the computer display on the weapons system control panel. The screen showed blips that represented the away team and the flying laser, but they looked like something off an Atari 2500.

I understand the planet Minos has been dead a long time, so the technology is far outdated. But does it not seem odd that the flying lasers and an invisible weapon attacking the Enterprise in orbit or so far advanced, yet the computer screen graphics would not pass muster on my Nintendo. It did not make sense.

Second, is it not strange that an old weapons system still performs perfectly? I cannot even get a portable CD player that had been packed away when I left Virginia to work anymore and it has only been dormant for five years. Obviously, they built stuff to last on Minos.

Third, Picard and Crusher. The two become trapped in a cavern with Crusher seriously injured. For the briefest of moments, there are hints of romance. At least, Crusher appears about to reveal feelings for Picard. He seems oblivious and/or ambivalent. Take your pick which. Word has it writer Robert Lewin had scripted a much more intimate scene, but Gene Roddenberry nixed the idea of a romance between Picard and Crusher. He had his drinking buddy Maurice Hurley, rewrite the script. Lewin left the show, either because of frustration with Roddenberry’s lack of interest in character development or because of Hurley’s rewrite. Lewin is not the only writer to complain about Hurley, so take from that what you will.

Finally, while I am going to save most of my thoughts about Denise Crosby and Tasha Yar for “Skin of Evil,” I will note this episode is the straw that broke the camel’s back. She decided during filming to leave the show. I do not know id it was her part in ‘The Arsenal of Freedom’ per se, but it was the point she decided she could not take it anymore. More on Crosby and Yar later.

Something that gets overlooked in all the criticism of “The Arsenal of Freedom’ is what a fine Geordi-centered episode it is. The character is highly undeveloped throughout the first season. Here is the rare exception. He takes command of the Enterprise, mentors an inexperienced replacement bridge crew, and destroys the invisible weapon. It will be a long time before hegets to do anything like that again. the second season will have him move to engineering where he will become a more integral character, but he is still going to have to grow into that. For the longest time, he will still be Data’s sidekick and little else.

One final good point is they managed to avoid getting too preachy over the weapons system destroying the entire civilization of Minos. Oh, they tried. Minos armed both sies of a major conflict, their motto was peace through superior firepower, and, really, are weapons manufacturers just evil incarnate? They should have been florists or something instead. Yet all those points were drowned out by the action, thankfully. So there was not much meat here, but it was fun to watch. Bonus points for the used car salesman like hologram played by the late, great Vincent Schiavelli.

Rating: *** (out of 5)