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)

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