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)

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