Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Transfigurations"

Does anyone ever remember this episode? I barely did.

I think the problem is how many common plot elements are present, but done elsewhere. The Enterprise encounters a wounded alien. The crew nurses him back to health. The alien bonds with a crewmember. In this case, it is Beverly Crusher. She falls in love with him. Hostile aliens come looking for the alien. He has a secret that saves the day.

I could list out a dozen subsequent episodes which are going to feature those plot elements. You could argue they are stealing from the success of ’transfigurations,” but I would have to ask what success? I was not impressed.

Two things really irritated me. First, Worf gets killed just when there happens to be an alien on board who can bring him back to life. I really hate it when shows do some dumb stunt like that when they are going to go to all sorts of absurd links to have their main characters survive anything the rest of the time. It is just as bad as when TOS would kill off anonymous red shirts in the most trivial of ways just to prove space exploration is dangerous while the main characters the main characters faced tougher situations without suffering a scratch.

I also have to go back to the hypocrisy of “Hide and Q” when Picard argues that riker should not have a guilty conscience for not bringing the dead little girl back to life when he had the Q power because her death was meant to be. Yet he is grateful for Worf’s Lazarus act here. Picard has either changed his mind, only cares when it is someone he knows isdead, or was just happy there was one less child to annoy him in ’Hide and Q.” Only the first option would surprise me. He is one stubborn old goat regarding his own opinion.

The second point which bothers me is the change in LaForge brought on by the alien’s energy blast. It is made abundantly clear LaForge lacked much self-confidence when it came to his scientific skills and charming women, but all that is fixed for him artificially by the alien. So instead of encouraging personal growth through learning experiences, LaForge is automatically “fixed’ by artificial means. I immediately thought of a steroid analogy or getting liquored up in order to talk to women. It is really embarrassing TNG is sending such a message.

I obviously did not go for “Transfigurations,” but tomorrow will more than make up for it and a string of uneven installments. The third season finale will be covered tomorrow. It is my favorite TNG episode for many reasons, not the least of which is how the Borg become every bit the menace I anticipated them being.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, September 28, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Menage a Trois"

I can sum up my feelings about “Menage a Trois” in the following sentence--it features a sixty year old woman naked, yet that is not the worst part of the episode. In fact, it has everything bad about trek accept for children: both Trois are in it. So are the Ferengi and wesley is taking his Starfleet entrance exams for the umpteenth time. Ethan phillips even has a guest spot, echoing how annoying he is going to be in five years when he takeson the role of Neelix in VOY.

If anything redeems this episode, I have no clue what it is. If you want to consider Marina Sirtis naked as a virtue, I really, truly, and honestly have nothing to say to you other than I will offer up prayers to spare your soul. Assuming you still have one.

Lwaxana Troi takes part in a diplomatic event. While there, she interferes in Troi’s love life yet again. A ferengi named tog takes a shine to her. One wonders if having an orange toad enamored with you is acompliment. Lwaxana does not take it assuch, so she rebuffs him. He does nottake rejection well, so he decides to kidnap her, Trois, and Riker from a picnic on Betazed.

Tog wants to create a partnership with Lwaxana in order to use her abilities as an advantage in negotiations. You may recall that was already a plot in one of the worst third season episodes thus far. Why TNG has a habit of revisiting it failures is beyond me, but it will not be the last time the show revisits depleted mines in an attempt to find a nugget or two. Usually with the kind of results you would expect.

Riker finds a way to send a message to the Enterprise. It is discovered by Crusher just as he is about to leave for his exams, so he misses them while rescuing his comrades. Picard winds up quoting Shakespeare and Tennyson love poetry to lawwoman in order to get her away from tog. That would be nauseating enough, but seeing Crusher strut like Tony Manero in his new uniform after receiving a field commission to full ensign caps it all off.

Yes, “Menage a Trois” is bad all around. Even the double entendre in the title is awful. Skip this one if at all possible. That goes for Riker/Troi shippers, too. It is done better in future episodes.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Sarek"

One thing TNG has done badly thus far is connect with the best aspects of TOS. Outside of the guest appearance of DeForest Kelly as McCoy in “Encounter at Farpoint,” the only other major connection has been the drunk disease from ’The Naked Time’ infecting our heroes. While that might have been a fine idea, it was ruined by making it the plot of the second episode. While would you have a plot in which your main characters act out of character when we are not familiar with them in the first place?

I will give credit for effort. The original plan for “Too Short a Season” was to feature William Shatner returning to resolve the aftermath of his actions in “A Private Little War.” Shatner was either unwilling or unable to reprise his role, so the idea was scrapped. So apparently were any other attempts to connect with TOS until “Sarek.”

“Sarek” is a worthy effort. the character is one of the most venerable in trek history, which is amazing considering his relatively short screen time over the years. Call it the Boba Fett Effect--we fill in the many gaps we do not know about the character with our imagination, thereby making him much cooler than he actually is. He becomes even more poignant as all that we know about him is now being stripped away by the Vulcan equivalent of Alzheimer’s. anyone who has had a relative waste away from the disease as I have can appreciate the living death it is. The loss is crippling emotionally and physically.

The most pivotal part of the episode is the aftermath of Sarek’s mind meld with Picard in order to pass his emotions unto the captain so he can pull off one last diplomatic mission. Patrick Stewart plays the violent mudsling perfectly, going from babbling nonsense, to insane laughter, to suicidal distraught all in one take. It is difficult to watch because it is such a raw and undignified sequence.

It is a great episode for continuity buffs, although since the only mention of Spock is Picard expressing embarrassment at Sarek’s love for his son, there is a gaping hole that will not be filled for another couple seasons when Spock finally shows up. But like I said above, TNG and TOS barely connected in its early seasons. Nevertheless, much of that oversight is made up for by “Sarek.”

Rating: *** *(out of 5)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Most Toys"

I like data centered episodes. This one is no exception. In fact, there is the added bonus I have an obsessive collector’s personality somewhat like Fajo‘s. I was big into comic books at the time and was on the verge of trying my hand at baseball cards when ’The Most Toys” aired, so there is a certain nervous feeling I get at some of the thingsFajo says and does here. I am neither a thief, nor psycho, but I still cannot help feeling a bit of kinship with him. There are some upsetting aspects, too, which make this an unsettling episode and therefore not afan favorite. It has enough redeeming qualities to overcome the stigma for me.

Fajo, a collector of one of a king items, fakes Data’s death in a shuttlecraft explosion so he can add the android to his collection. Data joins near extinct species, the Mona Lisa, and a 1962 Roger Maris baseball card among other items. Data passively resists Fajo by refusing to wear the outfit fajo demands, sit in a certain chair, and show off for a rival collector. It is noted contrast to how his behavior will change as he eventually escapes.

Meanwhile, the crew mourns Data’s destruction. I think it is the weakest part of the episode because we already know data is alive. Had the scenes involving his memorial occurred before we knew of Fajo’s ruse and kidnapping, the emotional impact would have been higher. But it may also have wound up like “Captain’s Holiday’ with a firstact irrelevant to the rest of the story dragging the episode down. Since the former might have been the best way to handle the matter, I am not going to hold the storytelling technique against the episode.

It is largely because of the ending that I am not. Data bonds with Fajo’s assistant, Varria. There are strong hints Fajo has been brutally abusing her beyond threats to kill her if Data refuses to cooperate with him. Varria sides with Data and helps him escape. For her effort, Fajo murders her.

What follows is the second time Data breaks his program by making the decision to be judge, jury, and executioner. He decides Fajo ought to die for the murder. He fires his phaser at the same time the Enterprise, the crew of which have discovered he is alive, beam him out. Data subsequently lies to Riker, claiming the phaser must have discharged during transport.

It is supposedly ambiguous whether data fired or is correct about the accidental discharge, but as I have implied, I think he did shoot. He was about to do the same to Armus back in “Skin of Evil” when he realized the oil slick had no remorse for killing Tasha Yar. He made the same choice about Fajo’s ambivalence about killing Varria here. In an interesting comparison, it was Riker who stopped him from firing at Armus and Riker again who asked about the phaser discharge here. Did data purposefully lie to riker since he knew he would not approve of Data killing Fajo? I doubt it is an accident Riker isa part of both incidents.

Later, Fajo is being held in the brig. Data visits him and Fajo wonders if the android takes pleasure in the role reversal. Data echoes the line about him being just an android with no feelings Fajo had used to objectify him. Data has the slightest hint of a smile. There is plausible deniability, but Data did seem to enjoy Fajo getting his just desserts.

I said above there were stigmas to “The Most Toys.” The first is probably a personal one. The scenes in which Fajo reinforces the artificialness of Data are unsettling. Turning someone into an object is the way abusers absolve themselves of guilt for the cruelest of things. Recall in The Silence of the Lambs how Buffalo Bill kept referring to the kidnapped girl as “it.” It did so to make it easier to cut her up later. Obviously, TNG would not have such violence, but the idea Fajo did not care if Data walked around naked combined with the implied severe abuse of Varria was enough to make “The most toys’ stand out as one of the creepiest episodes of TNG.

The second stigma is more shared by all fans. Originally, David Rappaport was cast as Fajo. Rappaport wasa famous dwarf actor who had been in Time Bandits, The Bride, and the unfairly short lived television series The Wizard.. Rappaport filmed some scenes as Fajo, then on his son’s birthday, took out a pistol he had bought two weeks before and fatally shot himself. He had been struggling with depression for years. He finally just could not take it anymore. The scenes he had already filmed were scrapped and a new actor hastily brought in. although none of his scenes were used or even survive, as far as I know, a dark pall hangs over the episode regardless.

In an effort to end on a positive note, I said I got into baseball cards briefly after “The Most Toys” aired. It was more like a year later during the 1991 season when the Atlanta braves went from worst to first in the National League before losing to the Minnesota Twins in game seven of the world series. It was braves fever that prompted my interest, not Fajo’s Roger Maris card.

But there is something special about that card. It was the first to be commissioned by Topps after Maris broke Babe Ruth’s single season home run record. he was honored by serving as the first card in the series. However, being the first card means it is more likely to have rubber band damage from kids putting rubber bands round their numerically ordered collections and tossing them in a shoe box. It is extremely rare to find that card without indentions on the sides from where rubber bands dug in. Fajo managed to find one in the 24th century, that lucky dog. I wound up with one myself, complete with indentures.

Drat.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Hollow Pursuits"

There is one difference between TOS and TNG--when the latter has an episode focusing on a bit character we have never heard of before, said character does not usually windup dead. There is a glaring exception in “Lower Decks,” but the death there is poignant, unlike virtually every other instance. But that is a review for a later date. “Hollow Pursuits” is all about Reginald Barkley.

Barclay is the series second shot at creating an excitable, nebbish character who can periodically save the day regardless in contrast to the always right, near perfect main cast. The first shot was Gomez back in the second season episode “Q Who?” Her auspicious beginning was to dump hot cocoa on Picard, then be placed in charge of getting the shields back online before the Borg could blow the ship into atoms. She never caught on and disappeared after two appearances.

But you can see hints of her character in Barkley. Gomez was obviously a brilliant engineer, but socially inept. Barkley is both those things, but far less annoying. Chalk it up to better writing or my fondness for Dwight Shultz’s epic role as H. M. “Howling Mad” Murduck on The A-Tram or the conservative column he writes for Big Hollywood. Whether Barclay is a good character or I just have a personal affinity, I generally like episodes centered around him.

Some are better than others, mind you. “Hollow Pursuits” is average. It suffers from the usual complaint about stories featuring the holodeck--why, on a ship that can travel anywhere and run into any conceivable thing, are the writers relying on the holodeck for stories? I will grant you they are making better than usual use of it here. It is perfectly reasonable to assume many people get addicted to playing on the holodeck. That is most certainly a problem worth addressing, as are Barclay’s personal issues in dealing with social anxiety. The problem is how much his holodeck fantasies were played for laughs.

What bugged me is how his programs look like they were written by a thirteen year old with a somewhat warped view of the adult world. His heroics fall on the level of comic books and his sexual fantasies are less exciting than perusing the women’s underwear section of the J. C. Penny catalogue. Certainly content had to be toned down for television, but what we got made Barclay look less like a good natured innocent than a child who should have been weeded out by Starfleet long ago.

He saves the day and grows out of his need for his holodeck fantasies, so I cannot complain much. For the rest of the series, the emphasis is on his scientific know how and social adjustment. I appreciate him much more down the line, but he had to start somewhere. It is not as auspicious a start as one would hope for, but it is not terrible.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Tin Man"

The worst episodes of Tng generally focus on children, animal-like aliens, and Betazoids. “Tin Man’ essentially combines all three, although the Betazois in question only acts like a child. In spite of slightly missing the trifecta, it is still an awful episode.

Starfleet assigns a Betazoid named Tam Elbrun to the Enterprise for a first contact mission with a powerful space oyster. Tam has a reputation for making first contacts, which is odd considering how many personal dislike him because one of his first contact situations got 47 Starfleet crew killed. He has a gift, you see. He cannot tune out anyone’s emotions. Said “gift” has driven him to such a fragile emotional state, troi hints he was once institutionalized.

Can you see yet why this episode is a real winner?

Tam causes exactly the kind of strife you would expect. But when the space oyster destroys a Romulan ship which tries to make contact, it becomes clear tam is the only guy to trust in the situation. He beams over to the oyster with Data, whom he likes since there are no emotions in him to read. Tam likes the solitude on the oyster, so he decides to stay so the two can learn from one another. Data and troi boo hoo over his decisio. Everyone else says good riddance.

So do I. I never have liked this one. Tam is not the sympathetic character the writers tried to make him out to be. The space oyster was not an interesting concept. It reminded too much of the giant jellyfish from “Encounter at far point.” I did not see the point of tossing the Romulans into the mix, either. The destruction of their ship added another humiliating defeat to their record thus far, thereby unnecessarily diminishing them as villains. Villains could have been left out altogether to leave space for developing Tam’s character more, but if some aliens had to be added, it should have been someone other than the Romulans.

A bad episode all around.

Rating: * (ourt of 5)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Captain's Holiday"

Word has it Patrick Stewart, contemplating leaving the show, asked to be featured in a more adventurous story with sex and guns. What he got for his request was “Captain’s Holiday,” as anemic an episode of TNG as one can imagine. No wonder he almost left after this season.

I can see hints “Captain’s holiday” was supposed to have an Indiana Jones treasure hunt feel to it, but it winds up more like when the Brady’s found that bad luck idol. Throw in a lot of cheap sexual humor and a plot that lacks any sense of scope or danger and you have a mess.

There is a lot wrong with this episode, but one of the most glaring problems is the pacing. The entire first act is nothing but an even more ornery than usual Picard being annoyed into going on vacation by his crew because he has been ornery lately. Bear in mind in the previous episode they knew something was wrong with him because he was too relaxed, friendly, and pleasant. You just cannot satisfy these people.

Riker makes it a point to trick Picard into unknowingly displaying an aphrodisiac while on vacation at Risa. Yes, the first officer tried to trick his captain into getting laid. I really cannot add anything more to that.

Painfully slowly, the plot comes together. In pure sitcom fashion, Picard is continually interrupted while trying to read his book by hot women wanting to have sexwith him, a ferengi low level criminal, a mercenary former professor’s assistant named Vosh, and two Vorgons from the 27th century. That describes pretty much every long weekend I ever spent in Myrtle Beach.

I have already explained about the aphrodisiac, so no need for that. The ferengi is Sovak, played by Michael Grodenchik. Gordenchik will eventually go on to play Rom in DS9. Here his character is an even bigger idiot than Rom, if that can be believed. Still, I have to give some credit. This is the first attempt to shift the ferengi from being a true menace, which they laughably were not, to the money grubbing con artists and comic relief they would eventually become. It is not an auspicious start, but it is a beginning.

Now Vash. I appreciate there was an attempt to create a real person on TNG. By that I mean Vash is mercenary, amoral, diahonest--all the thing 24th century humans are not supposed to be. The writers take her way over the top to the point she is a cartoon character, but at least we now have confirmation this high minded arrogance about humans having evolved beyond human nature by the 24th century is a load of crap.

As is the attempt to hook her up with Picard. It is hard to believe Picard was supposedly such a ladies man in his younger days considering how dry and inept he is with Vash. Even when they do share a kiss while stuffed in a sleeping bag in a cold , dark cave, it is about as thrilling as kissing your Aunt Gertrude on the cheek at Thanksgiving. There is probably more emoton with Gretrude, too.

As for the Vorgons from the future, they are the worst element. They tell picard they are looking for a weapon hidden in the 24th century which can be used to destroy a star in the 27th. Umm…who cares? It is like when you keep hearing the sun is going to burn out in five billion years. Yes, it will mean the end of the human race, but you and everything you care about will be not only long gone by then, but it will be as though none of it ever existed in the first place. There is no tension in the search for the weapon because you just do not care who gets it. Picard winds up destroying the thing rather than worrying with whether any party has good intentions.

This was a truly bad episode. If they ever make an indianaJones sequel when Harrison Ford s in his nineties--and do not put it past them--it would still have more action than “Captain’s Holiday.” No gunplay, no sex. Picard did throw a punch there once. All the guest cast were shady characters who wanted the weapn for either profit or as a means of destruction, but it never mattered to me if any of them found it. There is not much of anything to recommend this episode unless you are curious to see Patrick Stewart appear to be smuggling plums in a pair of lime green shorts. If you feel compelled to see that, seek professional help.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Allegiance"

A couple of advanced aliens performing unethical experiments on others? Boy, we rarely see that in Trek, no? At least “Allegiance” has a unique, albeit unintentional, aspect going for it--the two plots make Picard look like an absolute jerk.

Picard is kidnapped and replaced by a near perfect duplicate who inexplicably seems to possess all of his knowledge. Best not to dwell on how that is possible. The real Picard regains consciousness in a room with a Starfleet cadet and another alien who is such a wussy pacifist I was rooting for the fourth prisoner who eventually showed up when he thought about eating him. If standing up for your general principles means becoming lunch, bon a petit.

Both the experiments are in place to test the concept of response to authority. What is funny is the fake Picard is a pleasant, fun guy. He joins in the weekly poker game, sings a drinking song in Ten Forward, and romances Crusher. The crew hates every minute of it. Where is the arrogant jerk who shows them nothing but contempt? They want him back for whatever reason.

In the cell, Picard is the arrogant jerk who shows nothing but contempt with predictable results--his cellmates do not like him. Yet he is the one who orders them all around in various attempts to escape and keeps the grizzly monster thingy from eating the pacifist. He should have put that one to a vote instead.

Things go predictably. Eventually, the real Picard figures out the cadet is associated with the aliens and is freed just in time to save the Enterprise from mutiny as his doppelganger is endangering the ship by straying too close to radiation. Picard teaches the filthy aliens the human concept of imprisoning terrorists--Gitno in the enlightened the 24th century, folks--and sends them on their way to never bother humans again.

“Allegiance” is fun to watch because of how the story reflects on Picard. It is humorous to ee that if he makes an effort to be friendly and warm, the crew become suspicious. Likewise, in a setting where no one is obligated to follow the chain of command, people find him insufferable. It reflects rather poorly on him not that this is the first time. His open contempt for children, his unwillingness to have anyone know about his heart surgery, and just his general orneriness have been well documented. Tomorrow, we will see it yet again when he takes a holiday to Risa after chewing out everyone who suggests he should and runs into Vash for the first time.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 21, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Sins of the Father"

I have always liked this episode. Although Worf is not really one of my favorite characters--how can you like a character whose first reaction to everything he does not understand is to destroy it?--the Klingon politics storyline that takes place through most of the fourth season is one of the highlights of TNG. The seeds of the story are sewn here. It is difficult to believe this is the first time we ever see the Klingon home world, but then again, we will not first see Romulus for another couple years, either.

The Enterprise accepts a Klingon officer in the exchange program Riker participated in back in the second season. Kurn serves as first officer and institutes harsh Klingon discipline with Picard’s approval. Picard has such contempt for his own people. The crew grumbles under the strain, but they whine mostly because Worf is getting a free pass.

Worf is assigned easy tasks and earning such patronizing praise for the slightest accomplishment, I wanted to pop Kurn in the jaw myself. It turns out Kurn is Worf’s younger brother. He wanted to test Worf for the fire inside him a Klingon should have. Satisfied Worf has not gone soft, the two set out to clear their father’s name of trwason.

Allegedly, their father wasa traitor to the Romulans who helped them commit the massacre at Kitimer. In reality, it was the patriarch of the Duras family, a powerful force within the Empire. To blame Duras would divide the Empire, so for the greater good, worf and Kurn accept discommendation forbeing the sons of a traitor.

Later on, we will learn the Duras family is working with the Romulans to take over the Empire. Worf and Kurn will be right in the middle of all that. But those circumstances come much later.

A lot of fans were bored with the machinations of Klingon politics. I was not. This was a good start to serialized storylines in TNG. It will not officially end until the final season of DS9 when the Empire finally gets a decent chancellor. I think Kurn ultimately gets the short end of the stick, which cheapens his character. But that is a gripebeyond thescope of TNG,

I have not been able to tie in any Christian themes in a while, so i must take the opportunity now. The title of this episode is a paraphrase of Isaiah 14: 21:
"Prepare a place to slaughter his sons for the sins of their forefathers; they are not to rise to inherit the land and cover the earth with their cities."
And Isaiah 65: 7:
"Both your sins and the sins of your fathers," says the Lord . "Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains and defied me on the hills, I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds."
It is one of the few overt biblical references in TNG. There is still no sign Christianity even exists in the 24th century beyond the celebration of Christmas in Generations..

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

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

Data-centric episodes tend to rank higher in my book than most. “The Offspring” is no exception in spite of its obviously maudlin attempt to tug at the heartstrings. There is no particular reason for Data to have created Lal as a child other than to manipulate your emotions. It worked, blatantly cheap move or not.

Data returns from a cybernetics conference and holds up in his lab every available waking minute. He calls several of his closest friends down to the lab at some point in order to introduce them to his creation--what he considers his child.

Maybe I a missing something, but the subsequent conflict with Starfleet over whether Lal should be taken from Data seems forced and unnecessary. First, I am bewildered by Picard’s initial reaction of anger that data created lal without saying anything to him first. Datapoints out no one else on the ship consults with him about procreation and he has a point. No one else consults with the captain a pet or a new computer, either. It is the sole responsibility of the new parent or owner to take care of it. It is only Picard self-righteous sense of importance that tells him he ought to be informed.

Heh. It is probably just his hatred of children that motivates him. Heaven forbid another one of those monsters shows up.

To his credit, Picard does move more towards serving as Data’s advocate in his parental rights case. Starfleet wants to assess Lal’s development. If the visiting admiral is not satisfied, he will take her away from Data. This is the second part of the conflict I do not get. The state takes away children who are being abused. I understand and appreciate that. But the state ought not to take children simply because their development does not suit them.

What Starfleet is contemplating is the equivalent of thestate taking children away from religious parents because the relion is considered unsuitable. The episode itself does not come right out with that comparison. It has more of an I Am Sam feel to it in whixh there is concern Data is unprepared to rear a “child” Unlike the developmentally retarded character in I Am Sam, data has no handicaps that would keep him from being a parent. In fact, he is uniquely qualified to guide lal.

What I sense here is sinister machinations on the part of Starfleet. They could not get data in ’The Measure of a Man,” so they are trying a different tactic now. Depending on how sentimental you are, you can interpret Picard’s change of heart in the matter to an attempt to understand the parental connection with achild or anger at Starfleet’s hypocrisy in acknowledging Data has a soul, but no ability to connect with a creation of his. Or that Lal has no soul. Given Picard’s personality, I would say the latter is the case.

I would have preferred to skip that plot altogether. Lal’s development was interesting enough. Watching the growing pains of both her and Data are fascinating. Even at points where it is reinforced that Lal is artificial and data is not quite ready to handle parenting, such as when he shuts her off for overwhelming him with questions. Shades of doping kids up on Ritalin, no? I will confess scenes like that hint that Starfleet may have a point, but still not a good enough one to take Lal away.

This being Trek, there has to be a reset button. Lal has to die, so she does. It is a much more touching end than Tasha Yar was afforded. Let us not even compare it to the countless red and gold shirts who have joined the choir invisible over the years. It would mean more if Lal was ever mentioned again, such as some degree of sadness when data gets an emotion chip, but I guess that would be too much to ask.

It is a decent episode. As far as Data installment go, it is above average. I do not get as sentimental about it as many fans do because I am distracted by the attempt by Starfleet to seize Lal when I ought to be more interested in her personal development. It is one of the reasons I dispisedfamily law so much. It is nearly impossible to not feel indignant intrusions into family affairs by the state.

On a final note, this was the first of many episodes to be directed by Jonathan Frakes. He would go on the direct episodes of DS9 and VOY as well as First Contact and Insurrection. Not a bad start here.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Yesterday's Enterprise"

If you are a TNG fan, I do not have to tell you “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is not only the best episode thus far, but arguably the best in the series run. I would not go so far as to call it the best, but I am a sucker for alternate timeline stories. It comes from reading too many comic books. This episode marks the brief return of Denise Crosby as Tasha Yar after either her failed movie career or the departure of the producers who gave her character such an ignoble death, whichever you choose to believe. Thirteen million fans tuned in to watch this episode, making it the third highest rated in the series.

One of the most fascinating parts about this episode was its origins in the slush pile. New executive producer Michael Piller initiated an open script policy. Anyone who wrote a script could send it in, no matter if they had any previous scriptwriting experience or an agent. I imagine most all submissions were pretty awful as only a handful of scripts ever made it through to production. “Yesterday’s Enterprise” does not have many elements from the original submitted script, but the spirit is still there.

Ronald D. Moore drafted the script, so there is an added bonus as far as I am concerned.

The story is surprisingly complicated for a television episode aimed at as wide an audience as possible. Like I said above, such intricate story elements like time line shifts and alternate realities are usually reserved for geeky comic books and science fiction novels aimed at a niche audience.

In the normal timeline, a temporal rift opens beside the real Enterprise. We then shift to a new timeline in which Tasha Yar is alive, Troi is dead (Woo hoo!!) and the Federation is on the verge of conquest by the Klingon Empire. Only Guinan has the slightest hint something is wrong, probably due to her time in the Nexus in Generations. Yes, it is retroactive continuity, but it works for me. Anyone who has read the Age of Apocalypse storyline from the X-Men series of comics back in 1994 can see where the inspiration for not only the concept, but bishop’s intuition the timeline is wrong came from.

A past Enterprise comes through the rift. Thus begins the conflict of the episode. The other ship needs to go back in order to come to the aid of a Klingon ship under attack by the Romylans. To do so would likely alter the timeline and prevent the war from occurring. It is tough to swallow that anyone could be convinced such an idea will work. The audience is aware there has to be a reset button to restore reality, but the characters do not. This is reality for them.

Nevertheless, there is such a bleak, apocalyptic (there is that word again) feel it seems like there is nothing to lose by trying. In hindsight, I can see elements of Battlestar galactic’s final three episodes here. Earth is gone, there is nothing left, so let usdo something desperate and go out as heroes. In BSG, it was saving a little girl. Here it is a ship of Klingons. I hope the former tugs on your heart strings more desperately, but to each his own.

Tasha yar has a premonition she is not supposed to be in the altered timeline, so she opts to travel back with the other Enterprise. Her tactical experience may have made all the difference. We only get some hints of what happened as she survived when the timeline was restored, but was captured by the Romulans. Eventually, Crosby will play half breed Sela Tasha Yar’s daughter, in future episode’s.

The best part about the episode is its darker look and tone. In a lot of ways, the regular Enterprise looks like a luxury cruise liner. It is often difficult to appreciate the dire circumstance the crew faces when they are so darn comfy all the time. Here, the Enterprise is hard, metallic, and not very well lit. Everyone carries a sidearm. There is the upsetting notion there is certain danger at every corner. It is what VOY tried to do five years later, but failed miserably.

Robert Orci claims he used the look and feel of “Yesterday’s Enterprise” to write the screenplay for J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek. Hopefully that means he will restore the proper timeline, too.

I give this episode the highest recommendation so far. It isa lovesong to the fans even though I imagine some of them will scratch their heads over some of the concepts. It is not an episode to show non-fans in order to win them over. They will just think you are crazy for liking this show. “Yesterday’s Enterprise’ is a little secret only Trekkies know.

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

Friday, September 18, 2009

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

“A Matter of Perspective” is the annual budget saving bottle show with a twist to distract you from realizing it is the annual budget saving bottle show. The Rashamon style plot where the story is retold, often humorously, satisfies some fans, but I am not one of them. This is not much of an episode.

Riker is put on trial for the murder of a gruff scientist with which he had a terse encounter. The sides of the trial use the holodeck to recreate the incident from each of their perspectives. Different scenarios present Riker as a brute who tries to rape the scientist’s wife, beats up the scientists, or gets beaten up himself. People perceive events in different ways, but I thought the exaggeration here was absurd.

At no point did it seem likely piker might have done something illicit, so where is the drama? This is Trek. The human character is always perfect. It is the filthy alien who is always at fault, even when he is dead. So it is with “A Matter of Perspective.” Apgar, the scientist, was concealing his work from Riker’s inspection because he wanted to sell it to one of the federation’s enemies. When riker became suspicious, apgar tried to kill him as he beamed out, but wound up killing himself instead. Whoop de doo.

It might just be my legal background, but these quickie trials without adequate JAG counsel, discovery, or even time to prepare arguments irks me to no end. Even if convicted, Riker has every right to have the ruling overturned based on just about every circumstance you would care to name. Calling this this trial a kangaroo court is a national insult to Australia. I understand certain allowances have to be made for the sake of an hour long television drama, but I cannot suspended my disbelief for it.

It is not horrible but there is not much to recommend it, either. it is your standard Starfleet guy is always right story. the absord humor works for some, but not for me. Skip this one.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Deja Q"

I am not a big fan of Q. He is a fan favorite, but I have a difficult time appreciating his characterization, mostly because the writers who have tackled him have had a difficult time deciding what to do with a infinitely powerful being. Think about it for a minute. The guy can shape reality to suit himself. What interest would he have in humanity/ They would be less than ants to him. Certainly, watching an ant farm is fascinating to the intellectually curious, but how to go about presenting interaction? There is nothing comparable to go by, so Q has bounced from over the top villain to imp to sadistic tyrant and back again. Only a couple of those shifts have been enjoyable.

“Deja Q” is one of them. There is at least some attempt to broaden the character by making him a mortal human for a time, although there is still a missed opportunity in the resolution. I will get to that in a minute.

The Enterprise is called to Bre’el IV, a planet that is about to be struck by one of its moons falling out of orbit. The crew has to figure out some way to stop the moon’s fall or face disaster. Appreciate for a moment the accurate science involved, because later Trek will often ignore such things completely. They cannot destroy the moon with any sort of explosives because that would create heat in the atmosphere, causing an ecological nightmare. So they have to devise a way to literally move the moon. While the problem is a McGuffin to further the actual plot, the solutions they come up with are at least theoretically based in science.

The actual plot begins when Q shows up on the bridge. He requests asylum, claiming the Q have stripped him of his powers and allowed him to take human form. Picard does not believe him and throws him in the brig. Eventually, he offers to help with the moon problem solely to get out of the brig, not because he cares. Deciding his expertise might be useful, picard lets him out and assigns Data to keep an eye on him.

Here is where the real strength of the episode takes place. You have Data, who has spent ears studying humans close up and wants to be one teaching Q, someone who has no clue how to be human and resents he has to, interacting together. There are some fine moments between the two I could go blow by blow on, but it becomes irrelevant when Giunan shows up.

Guinan and Q have an animosity, but her actions here makes her look more awful than him. She does not believe he is a powerless mortal now, so to prove her point, she stabs him in the hand with a fork. So much for 24th century enlightenment. I understand not liking someone for good reason, but stabbing them just to prove a point is petty and dumb. She will not be the last character to act so harshly, either.

A sentient cloud approaches the ship. When it finds q there, it attacks him. The cloud is arace of sentient beings Q has tormented in the past. Now that he is powerless, they want to kill him. So the real reason he sought out the Enterprise is because he knew they would protect him. Well, except for Guinan and La Forge, as it turns out. They have to keep the shields up in order to keep Q from being attacked, but they would have to lower them in order to implement their plan to move the falling moon. La Forge shrugs and says Q is not worth the lives which would be lost by the moon’s crash.

He may be right. It would have been an interesting question to explore. Would they sacrifice Q in order to save millions of other lives? But this being trek, Riker immediately chastises la Forge for even suggesting it. So rarely do trek character ultimately have to face such a difficult decision, they just seem to accept they can hold on to their general principles because it will all work out in the end.

It does. Data damages himself trying to save q from another attack. Q notes if the roles were reversed, he would not have done the same. This is the only time in Q’s existence in Trek it dawns on him what an awful person he is. He subsequently steals a shittlecraft and leaves the ship to wait for the cloud to kill him. Picard tries to stop his suicide run, but needs to focus on the more pressing matter of the moon, which theycan work on now that the shields can be dropped.

Another Q shows up on the shuttlecraft. He is upset because Q appears to be sacrificing himself to allow the moon to be moved and pay for whatever crimes he committed against the cloud being. This is supposed to give the impression Q has learned his lesson and is going to be a better person, but it comes across as nothing more than a reset button. Q goes back to his impish ways. Although he does restore the moon to its proper place and leaves data a thank you gift, he goes back to being his usual self within two minutes without any indication of character growth.

The episode is not bad. It hits all its marks. Q is handled about as well as he can be, but ut would have been better if his attempt at self-sacrifice had been more convincing. I never got the feeling Data’s help motivated him so much as a desire to die and end his suffering as a human. The other Q’s decision to give him his powers back is hasty. The exchange looks like nothing more than a chance to show of the fact they got Corbin Bernsen to play him. He barely fades away before Q is back to his old self.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The High Ground"

Trek often sends out mixed messages and, even worse, wrong headed ones. I consider VOY the most notorious culprit, but I cannot deny TNG, good as it was overall, had some highly embarrassing moments in preachiness. Case in point--”The Higher Ground.” It sounds like a good idea to do an episode focusing on terrorism, but if it is going to happen, there should be a clear message. As near as I can tell, the message here is Ireland ought to be reunified in order to stop IRA bombings.

Yep. Terrorism works, folks.

It was not supposed to be this way. Melinda D. Snodgrass, whose episodes yo yo terribly in quality, originally envisioned a parallel to the American Revolution with Picard as Cornwallis and the Romulans as the French. Picard would slowly come to realize the Federation were the oppressors. There is no word on why this idea never came about, but since the story would involve aliens having moral superiority over the Federation, it must have been nixed by Gene Roddenberry. Further proof is that everyone associated with the episode as filmed cannot seem to decide who fault it was--rare considering how often writers would blame Maurice Hurley or self-deprecatingly take responsibility themselves.

I do not blame them for passing the buck. There is not much here to consider redeeming. At one point, Data and Picard even have a conversation in which Data asks if terrorism is a valid means of political change and Picard wavers on the issue as though he is not sure. Data lists a number of successful political changes due to terrorism, including Irish unification. The implication the IRA eventually defeat the United Kingdom caused this episode to be banned on the BBC until 2007. “The Higher Ground” has yet to air on RTE in the Republic of Ireland nearly twenty years after its inception.

But in addition to the specific terrorist conflict in Northern Ireland, the episode cannot pin down its stance on terrorism in general. Picard’s refusal to condemn terrorism as a force for political change give me pause considering the conflict here is the kidnapping of an innocent, unaffiliated woman after a bomb exploded at an outdoor cafe. This is clearly not a military campaign carried out under established rules of war by legitimate armies. There is no morl equivalency here.

Nevertheless, TNG manages to find some. Finn, the leader of the terrorist group, demonstrates Trek alien’s extraordinary ability to know obscure Earth history by comparing himself to George Washington. (Honestly, how many of us know Giuseppe Garibaldi? Simon Bolivar? Tsu His? And we are from Earth.) Crusher denies the comparison. Washington was a general, not a terrorist. Finn responds with the typical answer that winners are labeled generals. Losers arecalled terrorists. Yet he exhibits no qualities that would ever convince you Finn has any real grasp on the morality of what he is doing.

In the end, a child drops his weapon and is hauled off by the authorities. The kid is clearly brainwashed by his parents into ’fighting for freedom.” He looks like he is no more than eleven. Surely he does not even grasp the concept. Riker comments one child dropping his gun might be the start of peace. The cynic in the planetary authority--and me-- has doubts. At least Picard is uncharacteristically unwilling to judge yet.

Terrorism is not glorified by any means here. It is presented as a senseless waste. Finn has great artistic skills who ought to be peacefully using instead of killing and the child operative at the end is disturbing. But there is a hint that appeasement is an acceptable idea worth exploring even though innocent civilians are being slaughtered by the terrorists. In the post 9/11 world, I equate that message with what the blame America first crowd is pushing. Somehow, the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center should be a wake up call for cultural sensitivity? Come on. Crusher even remarks she fears Finn might win and gain real power, demonstrating no matter what his cause might be, the end result would not be worth the evil actions taken to get there.

To bad not all the characters could get on the same page with her.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

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


The Next Generation would not be trek without an anti-war episode. “The Hunted” is not a particular fan favorite because it is not all that significant in the grand scheme of Trek, but both it and tomorrow’s “The Higher Ground” have taken on a deeper meaning in the nearly twenty years since they first aired because of their subject matters of war, terrorism, and adjusting to life with both as a big part of it.

“The Hunted” deals with a distant war no over and the readjustment of soldiers, but with a twist: the relatively pacifist population genetically engineered soldiers to fight their war, but now have no idea how to reintegrate the overly aggressive men into society.

The Enterprise inadvertently becomes involved in the problem when it is assigned to bring the planet Angosia III into the Federation. While there, the crew aids the planetary authority in capturing an escaped fugitive who is unnaturally cunning and skilled, yet exhibits no aggression while evading security forces. This puzzles Troi. The mystery unravels as it is revealed Angosia altered men to become the perfect soldiers, but were unable to acclimate them back into society once the war was over. Simple arguments often lead to murder. The Angosians had to lock the men up for the good of society.

The fugitive, Danar, eventually escapes the Enterprise’s custody, frees his fellow augments, and holds the Angosian government hostage. Picard considers the situation a non-Federation matter since Angosia is obviously not ready to joing yet. The away team bids them the best of luck, offering to help clean up their mess once the augments have been given aid to repair the damage that has been done to them.

Toss aside for a moment how implausible it is the Federation would has not done enough research on a potential new member state to know it had done this sort of genetic experiments. You have to consider that an implausible, but necessary mistake for the sake of the episode’s conflict. Still, it is hard to swallow.

But not as hard to swallow as the allegory. “The Hunted” aired in early 1990, a time when we were just getting out of an era of Vietnam War retrospect. Specifically, it was generally accepted as an evil, unnecessary war that emotionally and physically scarred innocent men forced to become soldiers while allowing brutish men to indulge in their brutality. Witness Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Casualties of War, , and Born on the Fourth of July as key examples. Even the First Blood and Missing in Action films, popularly considered jingoistic revenge for Vietnam’s loss films, possessed an aired of emotionally scarred veterans being forgotten by the government.

So “The Hunted” was timely, regardless of what your opinion on the Vietnam War and the subsequent status of its veterans are.

In less than a year, the United States would launch Operation Desert Storm to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and generally change the attitude towards the military to positive for just about all save those who find a military’s existence an evil concept in and of itself. These days, we are right back in the midst of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which I wish to debate the necessity of here, and the anti-war crowd is yet again wary of the emotionally disturbed returning veteran ready to prey on innocent people.

Observe some of their thought on the issue. The New York Times believes it does and is more than happy to tell you about it. of course, they are terribly wrong, but what else is new?

The New York Times, a newspaper once well respected across the country, if not the world, has further eroded its former status with a new series called War Torn. The articles feature profiles of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have either been convicted of or charged with murder. The idea is the wars have created a new type of disgruntled veteran, one who has been scarred by his nightmarish experiences overseas to the point he is now a murderous monster unleashed on a helpless population.

Good Lord. Did the author write this first installment with a straight face?

The NYT found 121 cases of recent war veterans being involved in murder cases. Bear in mind there are 1.7 million veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, not to count contractors and other civilians. Now, I will be honest, in school I was into reading, writing, but not much ‘rithmatic. Like Barbie, I think math is hard. But I know enough to work out the NYT’s figures. One hundred and twenty-one murders out of 1.7 million people comes out to about seven murders for 100,000 people. The national average is 26/100,000. So veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are actually less prone to homicide than the general population.

So, yes, I think their hearts might have been in the right place to raise concerns about veteran’s readjustment into polite society, I can see how “The Hunted” is an insult to the reality of their situation. It is a shame the attitude has no changed much in the nineteen year interim.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 14, 2009

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

Ronald D. Moore hit’s a triple here with his second script for TNG. The Romulans make another appearance unusually soon after “The Enemy,” but I have no complaints. ’The Defector” is one of the best episodes of the third season.

The Enterprise receives a distress call from a small Romulan vessel in the Neutral Zone. The occupant requests asylum, but there is nothing the Enterprise can do until his ship reaches federation space. It is nearly destroyed by a pursuing Romulan war bird before safely crossing into Federation space. Once safely onboard, he defector says he is a low ranking logistics officer with information regarding asecret base about to become operational on Nelvana II in the Neutral Zone. The existence of such a base would be an act of war.

The crew is skeptical because little adds up. It appears the Romulans let the defector escape, he refuses to divulge any useful information, and probes of Nelvana II show no signs of a base. Nevertheless, Starfleet Command decides the possibility of the information being correct is too important to ignore.

After some soul searching angst, the defector reveals he is the famous Adm. Jerok, a hero or butcher, depending on what plaet you live on, to the Romulans. So he added yet another lie to the gambit. he explains to Picard that becoming a father changed his perspective on war. He believes a war with the Federation would destroy his people, so when he learned of plans for a probable invasion, he decided to defect. As asign of good faith, he finally offers every bit of helpful information he can.

It turns out to all be a ruse by the Romulan High Command to test his loyalty and/or capture the Enterprise if they bought into it. The Enterprise narrowly escapes by having been escorted by cloakedKlingon vessels. Tomalok, in his second appearance, decides today is not a good day to die and departs. Jarok, grief stricken over never being able to go home, commits suicide.

I thought “The Defector” was an interesting episode there never was a mystery as to whether Jarok was telling there really was an impending invasion. There clearly was not. The more important theme to the episode was what kind of person is Jerok? Odd, considering how few trek episode focus on a guest character.

The key scene is the discussion between Picardafter Jerok reveals his true identity. In spite of the Romulans being “the enemy” and Jerok perhaps offering a valuable heads up that may save millions of lives, piicard shows a contempt for Jerok for being a traitor to his people as much as for his dishonesty with Picard up until this point. Exploring the opinion of Jerok’s integrity would have been fascinating, but it was cut short when Picard finally praised him at the end for trying to stop a war.

It cheapened the impact for me. For a time there, it looked as though Picard might have considered personal loyalty more important than the morality of preventing an aggressive war of conquest. Such an idea would translate to your people are worth fighting for even when they are wrong. The complete turn around at the end when Picard praised his actions instead was jarring. I assume the end was the result of a rewrite.

The jarring twist forces me to knock off a star from the final rating. I am also reminded, for whatever reason, that this is yet another Romulan appearance that has ignored the reason they reappeared in the first place--namely, their bases having been destroyed in the fist season finale. Here we are two years later with nothing to show for it. The dynamic of the Romulans has instead shifted to them serving as sneaky, cloak and dagger type enemies. There is something to besaid for that, but there is not much to be said for dangling plot lines. The Romylans never got to deal with the Borg destroying their bases before moving on to other machinations. It is untidy.

Ratings: *** 9ut of 5)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

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

“The Vengeance Factor’ is a straightforward, action oriented, non-peachy installment of TNG. Gene Roddenberry must have been out with the flu when the powers that be were mapping the episode out. It more than makes up for the lousy attempt at hypocritically judging one Betazoid for secretly using his abilities while completely ignoring one of the regular cast members does the exact same thing virtually every episode without anyone even blinking.

A distant science outpost is attacked by what looks to be nomadic marauders known as Gatherers. They have never struck bases out this far, so Picard heads to the Acanar system to see what has changed. Marouk, the stuffy old woman in charge, is delighted to think the Federation might now be willing to hunt down the Gatherers since they have been a nuisance. Alas, Picard just wants the stuff they stole back and lectures Marouk to consider the Gatherers as people, not animals or parasites.

When an away team is subsequently attacked on what looks like a large jungle gym, we learn the Gatherers look like a bunch of Iron Maiden groupies. You can debate whether they are qualified as people. Picard still does, and offers to mediate peace between all parties. Good luck with that.

In the meantime, Marouk’s young assistant, Yutta, is frantically making certain Marouk does not get poisoned during the negotiations while simultaneously toying with Riker’s advancements. He channels kirk more in this episode than he has since ’Angel One” from the first season.

Yutta is actually a genetically altered last survivor of her clan which was wiped out by the Gatherers generations ago. She plans to kill the leader of the Gatherers in revenge during the negotiations. This is not a plot point until the climax, which is awkward, but what comes next is considered a far bigger issue, but one that ought not be.

Riker beams down with the knowledge Yutta is an assassin. He is forced to fire on her numerous times with his phasor before her genetically altered self dies. Picard is adjacent to the line of fire. He exhibits no reaction whatsoever to watching Riker kill the girl. Fans have been upset by this particular instance of emotional coldness from Picard, but there is a good reason for it. the special effect of the phaser beam has to go right in front of Patrick Stewart. He cannot move or risk ruining the effect which will beadded in post production.

Admittedly, that is a case of bad directing. Had Picard been elsewhere in the scene, he could have had a more appropriate reaction to watching a young girl being killed in front of him. Instead, we have to accept that Picard is one cold fish.

There is not much to this one except mindless action. An away team battles heavy metal fans around a jungle gym, Riker kills the same blonde chick Freddy Krueger tormented for two Nightare on Elm Street movies, and Picard is just grateful it is all over. In spite of ternary description, it is not all that bad an episode. Maybe because it isso different. You have to stretch to fin any of the usual social commentary and very few Trek conflicts are resolved by the violent taking of a life. I do not want to say that is a step in the right direction, but it does show TNG is now willing to diverge from the norm to shake things up a bit.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

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

The third season of TNG is unique in that it makes the horrible combination of Troi and the Ferengi in the same episode, not once, but twice. What were they thinking? Taking the most unpopular character and adding the worst villain alien race in trek on two separate occasions without offering usa good chance to flee in terror after the first travesty/ it is inhuman!

I am going to call this one the worst episode of the season for many reasons, but the main one is the moral issue of Betazoids using their empathic powers to manipulate people is finally addressed, judged, and then completely ignored, save for sporadic plot devices, for the rest of the series. That is fine in trek logic since the culprit in question is only half Betazoid and hiding his ability, so the issue of his dishonesty can be cast on the fact he is hiding his abilities, not the fact he is using them in the first place to gain a negotiating advantage.

Just to compare, Troi’s main job is as ship’s counselor. Her empathic abilities do not present as much of a problem there, since a counselor’s role is to get to the bottom of how her clients really feel. You cannot hide anything from her, though, and that can be unsettling even if one is voluntarily seeking her help. Considering many go to Ten Forward to talk to Guinan instead, I would say many feel awkward about troi.

But her secondary job is to “read” new aliens the ship encounters so they can have an advantage in dealing with them. Such an act is much grayer as she is keeping this fact from whoever she is reading and therefore does not have consent.

That is the same thing Ral, the secret half-Betazoid in question is doing, except he is going for a negotiating advantage over opponents in securing the rights to a wormhole rather than the diplomatic or military advantage Picard normally seeks from Troi. So why is Ral a bad guy and Troi not? Solely because he is the guest star, near as I can tell.

The wormhole winds up being unstable, so it is worthless. Two Ferengi wind up trapped in the Deelta Quadrant when the wormhole collapses. Their misadventures are followed up in a VOY episode years later. Of all the episodes that could have had sequel, this is the one the powers that be at VOY chose. Blegh.

Skip this one if at all possible.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Friday, September 11, 2009

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

It is an unintended stroke of good fortune “The Enemy” happened to come up on the eighth anniversary of 9/11. It inherent theme is highly relevant to remembrances of the day. The episode is all about how you perceive your enemy on the large and small scale.

The Enterprise receives a distress call from a ship in the Neutral Zone. Picard decides to set aside diplomatic policy for humanitarian reasons and rescue the ship. Before he can, the ship crashes on a planet ravaged by electromagnetic storms. He sends down an away team to search for survivors. The team discovers the ship was piloted by Romulons.

There is a small confrontation, but the only Romulon in good enough shape to offer any resistance can only muster an ineffective attack. Riker, leading the away team, decides to beam the wounded Romulon back with them. Due to the electromagnetic interference, La Forge gets left behind. In accordance with his customary bad luck, he is injured in a fall and damages his VISOR only to find himself face to face with another stranded Romulon.

On board the Enterprise, the other Romulon is dying. He requires a blood transfusion which Worf could give, but he refuses because Klingons and Romulons are mortal enemies. If the roles were reversed, the Romulon would surely let Worf die. Worf refuses even after Picard explains the difficulties it would cause for a Romulon to die on a Federation ship.

Thus sets up the conflict on the small and large scale. La Forge and the Romulon Boscha have to cooperate with one another in order to survive until the electromagnetic storm blows over. They both have misconceptions about one another because of propaganda, but also true cultural differences. Boscha canot comprehend why la forge’s parents allowed him to live knowing he was blind. Yet Boscha overcomes his prejudice in order to be la Forge’s eyes when they need to configure a signaling device.

On the other hand, you have the big picture. Worf cannot overcome his natural animosity for Romulons in general even to avert a major incident which might even lead to war. It is understandable when you realize his parents were killed by Romulons, but you still have to pause at the inherent hatred behind his motivation. Yes, Romulons killed his parents, but this Romulon had nothing to do with it. A plot convenience lets Worf off the hook--the Romulon dies before ay transfusion can occur anyway--but his lack of individual compassion is notable, particularly in contrast to La forge and Boscha working together at the same time elsewhere.

Chalk that up to the Trek constant that humans are always superior in their morality. Boschia sees (no pun intended) no reason the blind La Forge should ever have been allowed to live, yet he cooperates with him in order to stay alive. At no point does he ever come to appreciate La Forge’s inherent vale, however. Even in the end, he only notes he was never harmed by anyone from Starfleet. But Worf, a good guy, but still an alien, cannot overcome his hatred in order to help a Romulon he is more or less trapped with, although not as literally as La Forge. Worf still has some major schooling in humanity left to do.

The assertion that humans are always superior to aliens in all things moral is the only shortcoming of “The Enemy.” it is the first episode in which we get to see how Tng would shine under Michael Piller as opposed to just limping along under Maurice Hurlery. The episode also introduces Tomalok, the Romulon commander. He is played by the late, great Andreas Katsulas, who I appreciate moreas G’Kar from Babylon 5, but nevertheless Tomalok is a great character.

What I really liked about “The Enemy” is how it dealt with what it means to be enemies, both philosophically and militarily, when the time comes you need each other. In spite of the La forge/Worf contrast, there was not much of the usual Trek preaching on the issue. Every side provoked the other in some manner by everything from invading each other’s space to refusing aid and threatening to attack just by virtue of it being an us v. them scenario in with no other motivations. It shows what a mire a conflict between people can be when there is no objective other than the annihilation of each other.

That theme will be brought up again a couple episodes hence, so it is best to wait until then. But this was a fine start on the theme.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Booby Trap"

Poor La Forge is the unluckiest guy in Starfleet when it comes to love. The big reason is because he falls for such weird women. Case in point: a hologram version of Leah Brahms. I think he has been in engineering too long.

“Booby Trap” marks the second time the Enterprise has gotten into trouble attempting to satisfy curiosity. The first time around was in “Where Silence has Lease.” You may recall a crewman was killed in that one and Picard decided to blow up the entire ship after they got trapped in a cloud inhabited by the curious, but sadistic, Nagilum. Here they get caught in a booby trap that releases deadly radiation if theship uses power or some such. The episode is full of VOY-esque techno babble that does not seem to mean much at all. The cool part is Picard nearly kills them all yet again as part of the solution. The crew stays loyal to this guy anyway. Wonder of wonders.

Picard wants to investigate an ancient ship adrift in an asteroid belt. The aliens that used it were exploring space when humans were living in medieval times. The ship is adrift because it got stuck in the previously mentioned power turns to radiation trap. The Enterprise gets stuck, too. Thanks, Picard. You and your nostalgia for building ships in bottles.

La Forge has no time to lick his wounds from a failed date when he has to recreate Leah Brahms, the designer of the Enterprise’s warp engine, in help him find away out. La forge falls in love with her along the way. And why not? She is brilliant, geeky, and is touchy feely. She is perfect for him. Well, except for that being a hologram bit.

They find a techno babble solution that involves literally coasting the ship out f the asteroid field with minimal power. We know it is going to work because the procedure is demonstrated in a simulation that does not look much better than contemporary 8-bit NES game. The future ain’t what it used to be.

Although the plan is likely to work, picadors his best to screw it up by taking the comm himself. Because he has not done so in years and it would be way too logical to let the perfect android, who normally handles the comm, you know, perfectly, do it. But the risk in only smashing into an asteroid and being completely destroyed, so what the heck. Let an old man have his fun. At least hedid not decide to set the self-destruct this time.

In spite of my snark, the plan works. Picard flies perfectly, and La Forge is back to being unlucky at love. The best part about the latter is not only will La Forge meet the real Brahms in the future, but she is a witch on wheels in real life and discovers he recreated her on the holodeck. Dude just cannot win for losing.

Not a bad episode, but it starts a long string of bad luck for la forge that reaches the point of incredulity. Seriously, nothing goes right for him until he gets new eyes sometime before Star Trek: First Contact. Here is the Dr. Mark Greene of TNG, except that he always survives to be tortured yet another day.

Oh, and yes, you dirty minded perverts, I do note the double entendre with ‘booby’ relating both to the trap and to La Forge getting the hots for a woman. I do not think that was intentional. It is funny as all get out, though.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

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

We get yet another chance to test our theory that trek never does children well. The theory took a hit a couple weeks ago with “Pen Pals,” but it is still standing. One point "The Bonding” has going for it is Ronald D. Moore. The script was his first professional sale to Trek. We would continue to write numerous episodes for all three of the series set in the 24th century over the next decade. Later he went on to create the remained Battlestar Galactica, a show I cannot praise enough. I am going to praise Moore a lot over the next few months and even more so if I decide to cover DS9. A number of episodes which immediately come to mind when someone says “Star Trek: the Next Generation” were penned by him.

All that will come later. What about “The Bonding?” It has two major flaws as far as I am concerned. First, I do not think Jeremy’s reaction to his mother’s death is vey realistic. Second, Worf’s bonding with Jeremy was forced. Second, the resolution was awfully maudlin.

The plot is simple. Worf leads an away team down to a planet on which a civilization fought itself into extinction. A young officer, Marla, steps on a ine left over from the war and is killed. Marla’s death leaves her twelve year old son an orphan since his father also died when he was younger. Worf feels guilty over Marla’s death and wants to bring Jeremy into his family through a Klingon ritual. Troi advises him against showing too much affection for Jeremy. In the meantime, Jeremy is visited by a being posing as his mother. She makes several attempts to lure him to the transporter in order to take him down to the planet. The entity is one of a race of energy beings who vowed the war that wiped out civilization would never take another life. They want to take care of Jeremy, but are talked out of it when convinced he would be better off elsewhere.

My first gripe was Jeremy’s reaction to his mother’s death. Originally, he was much more distraught over being all alone in the universe. The entity filled much more of a void in him, so convincing the entity it was not serving a useful purpose was a more complicated process. Enter Gene Roddenberry, who said children in the 24th century are more emotionally strong. So what he get instead is a twelve year old stoic who states matter of fact he is all alone, then marches off to his gamily quarters with all his dead mother’s things all around him. Alone. Without a single tar shed.

You can argue he has been hardened by losing his father in the past, but he had his mother for support then. Surely he not only is upset over his mother’s death, but has the added anger over the cruelty of fate. Surely he wants to turn Worf and/or Picard into a throw rug. Wesley admits he hated Picard for surviving a the mission on which his father was killed. But Jeremy? Nothing. It is unreal.

My other problem was the resolution. The entity feels guilty over the mass genocide it with which it had nothing to do. So they want to take Jeremy away with them, whether it is actually good for him or not, to alleviate their guilt. As Picard notes, living with them is going to be far worse. Jeremy would have no purpose in life, nothing to do, and no friends. The entity is not convinced by this. They sound like a bunch of peacenik hippies you cannot reason with because anything to make up for a war has to be good. I got the hint their was an unnecessary antiwar message that was an odd fit. These entities helplessly watched a war rage on, now they feel so guilty they are going to screw up a kid’s life even further to make themselves feel better? Meh.

“The Bonding” is not without its virtues. Worf and Wesley explain both to the entity and Jeremy what it is like to lose parents. Wesley even explains how much he hated Picard for a long time after his father’s death. That is a natural reaction from an orphaned child. Why did Jeremy not get to experience the same? The sequence brought some much needed emotion to the story. The entity is only convinced it is wrong to take Jeremy when it realizes the lack of emotional support he would receive from them. Not that Jeremy actually shows a real need for any.

I cannot find any evidence, but I have a hunch someone saw the potential of a father/son bonding with Worf and decided to create Alexander. The kid would have to have been conceived during the second season episode “The Emissary,” but there was no real opportunity for that to happen unless you assume Worf and K’Eleyr did the deed in the holodeck. Since the episode showed more potential for a relationship between Worf and K’Elyr sans a kid, I am guessing that was not the original intention. So I blame “The bonding” for all the Alexander we had to suffer through subsequently. Boo, hiss!

All right, so RDM’s first trek outing was not that great. He will more than make up for it later. The poor guy ran into the trek and children curse.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Who Watches theWatchers?"

You had to figure it was only a matter of time before TNG carried on the dubious tradition of presenting religious belief as nothing but fearful superstition. You may recall in my review for the first season episode “Justice” I had considered it originally to be harsh about religion. Rewatching it again for that review caused me to change my mind. So we managed to firmly enter the third season before religion takes a hit. What took so long?

The Enterprise is sent to repair a hidden observation point on the pre warp planet Mintaka III. The observation team’s reactor is about to cease functioning, exposing their position to the Iron Age level inhabitants. The reactor actually explodes when two Mintakans happen to pass. They get a good glimpse of the people and technology before one is injured while exploring.

Crusher has him beamed to sickbay under the assumption the prime directive has already been violated by the observation point’s exposure. Crusher heals the man’s wounds and erases the memories of his time on the ship. Because of his unique physiology, the memory wipe does not take. When he goes back to the planet, he tells everyone he was miraculously healed in the name of the great god Picard.

Considering Picard’s overblown ego, you would think he would be at least somewhat flattered.

The Mintakans capture one of the observation team. they cannot decide whether he is an emissary or enemy of The Picard. Either way, the people are beginning to leave in fear of the Picard’s wrath. Piccard is advised to play this angle up in order to save the captured observer, but he refuses by saying the Mintakans had put aside their superstitions Millennia. He will not put them back on that road.

But what he does do is even worse. He beams aboard one of the Miintakans to show her around the ship and prove he is a mere mortal. Picard completely ignores the idea far advanced technology would seem like magic to a primitive even if she was a skeptical thinker. That isexactly what happens. It is only when she watches one of the observers die in sickbay she realizes Picard does not have the power to raise the dead. He is fortunate she did not think he let the observer die in all his godlike wisdom.

While all this is going on, the situation is falling apart planet side. They have noticed the woman is gone and assume--correctly, I might add--Picard kidnapped her. A storm approaches, too, which they take as a sign of his anger. They decide to sacrifice the captured Troi as an appeasement offer. Many TNG fans agree that would probably be a good thing.

Picard appears just in time with the missing woman. He tries to convince everyone he is not a god, but can only do so by getting shot with an arrow. Because he did not stop it from stabbing him, everyone is now convinced he is a mere man. And probably dumb.
I do not dislike this episode, but I think the logic behind Picard’s solution to the dilemma is misguided to the point of incredulity. The Mintakans are supposedly far advanced in their rational beliefs. He considers this a good thing. He refuses to play along with his alleged god persona even though it is a quick and definite solution.

But how exactly was it less risky to tell the Mintakans the truth? They are thousands of years away from interstellar travel themselves. The fact he appeared to them is going to become a legend by that time. Even rational, learned historians have disagreements on how things happened in ancient history. The Mintakans are not far removed from the caves. A religion is bound to be created around Picard anyway.

Even if the plan works perfectly for Picard, what has he done other than contaminate the Mintakans worse than they would have been had they believed he was a god right off the bat? They are impressionable sorts who fully engage in whatever new beliefs they adapt. It only took hours before they went from rationalists to practicing human sacrifice to a god. Now they are going to be in a hurry to make it to the stars. He has likely hyper accelerated their advancement well beyond normal with all the trappings of technology getting away from people who cannot handle it. In other words, he has shown the Mintaans what they can do one day, but has not taught them to question whether they should.

Disagree if you wish, but there would have been far less damage considering the status of Mintakan society if Picard had played along as a god. He would have resolved the situation quickly. Presumably, they would have cast off the religion after some time as a natural progression. They are never going to cast off the idea of scientific advancement above all else. I see much more suffering--eugenics, emotionless logic, science without conscience--in the latter than the former. All because of the belief religion in all forms is bad..

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 7, 2009

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

“The Survivors” is a decent enough episode, but not much more than that. It tries to make a sharp, moral point, but winds up raising a giant hole in the admiralty law of the trek universe.

The Enterprise responds to a distress call to find an entire planet devastated save for one small house and the elderly couple who live there. They have no answrr as to why they were spared, but the mystery deepens as a ship shows up and goes on the attack while Troi’s empathic powers are tortuously toyed with so she cannot determine the truth. The truth is Kevin, the old man, is eally a powerful, immortal alien who fell in love with a human woman, so he posed as a human himself. Their colony was attacked. His wife joined the fight and was killed. Enraged, Kevin used his powers to wipe out every member of the race attacking them. He created a duplicate of his wife for company. He created the ship and cluttered Troi's mind to cover up his misdeeds.

Picard says the Federation has no jurisdiction to sit in judgment, so the Enterprise leaves, declaring the planet off limits.

I pretty ambivalent about “The Survivors.” It is not a bad episode, but the premise reminded me too much of any random TOS episode. You know--an infinitely powerful being does something horrible and for some inexplicable reason, decides to hide it from the Enterprise crew. Considering the only thing they can do upon learning about the genocide he caused is leave him alone. So what was the point of hiding in the first place?

Kevin’s actions shine a spotlight on a big problem with rek that is never particularly resolved--there is no standard, intergalactic law to handle such issues like genocide. Certainly international law has its weaknesses in the real world, but at least there is a framework for dealing with issues like genocide. The major powers in the trek universe seem to have never agreed to any sort of Nuremberg-type rules, even if it is just to pay lip service to the concept of interstellar crimes.

It is a problem on a smaller scale. Genocide may thankfully not come up, but what about piracy? That most certainly is a widespread problem for everyone from the Federation to Klingons, Cardassians, and everyone in between. In international law, pirates are considered hostus humani generis or enemies of mankind. Just as the open seas cannot be claimed by an one nation, open space must belong to all species. There does not appear to be a general agreement on what to do about pirates, however. Consider that the Orions continue a slave trade which involves capturing other aliens. It is a weakness that was never addressed (even in “The Gambit”) even though it is good fodder for stories.

To end on something poignant, John Anderson, who played Kevin, lost his wife shortly before filming this episode. The emotions he showed here are real. I wish I could praise the episode more because of it, but I cannot.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Ensigns of Command"

I am more often than not a fan of data-centric episodes. This one is no different. It was written by Melinda Snodgrass, who is back to true form now that Maurice Hurley is not there to inject drunken Irish clones into the mix. There is no cheerleading oratorio rights, either. But there is more exploration of the status of data’s soul. Here Data learns to be more creative, both subtly in his violin playing, and on a broader scale by going against protocol in order to save the lives of doomed colonists.

Before getting into the story, this is the first episode in which we learn Data plays the violin. He does so perfectly, of course, but has no sense of style or emotion to go along with it. Picard remarks to him after listening to at the conclusion that his combination of two styles of playing is a new innovation. He does have it within him to be creative. Data agrees, considering the changes he had to make in his approach to his mission.

The Enterprise is contacted by a territorial race of aliens known as the Sheliak. They claim to have discovered a Federation colony on one of their planets and demand it be removed within four days. The planet is surrounded by lethal radiation no human could have survived, but the ship goes searching anyway. The radiation prevents the transporter from working, so they send Data down in a shuttlecraft since the radiation will not affect him.

He find over 15,000 colonists who are the descendants of a ship‘s crew that crashed 92 years ago. Somehow, their great-grandparents built up an immunity to the radiation. Worse yet, they have a nice little set up here and do not want to leave. They have a stubborn leader named Gosh even (Yes, I know.) who convinces them they have put too much blood, sweat, and tears into building their lives here to give it up. Data is stymied because he really does not know how to deal with people motivated by high emotion.

He meets up with a girl named Ardrian. She offers to help, mostly because she has developed a quick crush on him. Ardrian plants one on him because she believes he needs the emotional support. That is a television thing, of course. Pretty girls do not randomly smooch crestfallen guys, but it is amusing to note data is just as baffled by it as he is the colonists apparent willingness to fight a hopeless battle for the sake of material possessions. It changes the perspective. Whereas Data looked somewhat lost while dealing with the colonists, now we see it is innocence that is his problem.

He fixes that by demonstrating the power of his phaser in destroying the town aqueduct. Certainly a shocking move, but it works. The colonists may like their home, but like like there rear ends even more. They opt to leave.

Ah, here is the trouble. It will take at least three weeks to remove all the colonists by shuttle. The Sheliak have only given them four days. They consider humans a lower life form, so they quite rudely refuse to negotiate. Kind of like Democrats. Picard and company pour over a 1,400 page treaty in order to find a loophole. A 1,4000 page treaty? It is even worse than I thought. They are Clinton Democrats.

Just by chance, Picard discovers a provision for third party arbitration in disputes between the Federation and the Sheliak. Picard chooses the Grizzelas, who will be in their hibernation period for another six months. (Grizzelas? Grizzlies? Hibernating? Get it? I think some of these names were created by someone not smarter than the average bear.) the Sheliak fumble around as Picard puts the shoe on the other foot by rudely making them wait. In the end, they agree to the three week extension in order to avoid the six month wait.

Data plants one on Ardrain before he leaves because he can tell she is not happy he has no romantic feelings towards her. If only she had gotten him drunk. It worked for Tasha Yar. Data’s intuition about how to deal with people is going, but he can still bean awfully cold fish.

You have to ignore a few logical problems, such as the radiation being irrelevant even thought it is supposedly deadly and the Sheliak missing the fact a colony has been sitting on one of their planets for nearly a century, but “The Ensigns of Command” is a good episode if you do not dwell on those points. Data takes some steps forward towards becoming a richer character, but it some ways, I think he regresses some from “Pen Pals.” He dies not get as attached to his new friend hereas he did there. Odd, considering Snodgrass wrote both episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)