Saturday, October 31, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Disaster"

Call this one TNG’s homage to ’70’s disaster films, particularly The Poseidon Adventure. The Enterprise is hit by a quantum wave--just go with it--putting the crew in various predicaments within the now disabled ship.

There is a fair mix of comedy and drama which is generally done well. Picard is trapped in a turbo lift with several children, the saucer section is cut off from the rest of the ship, Keiko is going into labor in Ten Forward with Worf to deliver the baby, Riker and Data have to travel through Jeffries tubes, and La Forge and Crusher are blocked from escaping a cargo bay by a plasma fire.

I will address the comedic situations first. I have always been one to think worf’s impatience with Keiko giving birth was much funnier than his ’merry man” antics in ’QPid,’ but that is just me. The scene manages to be humorous without falling into sitcom trappings. It is also great when riker has to remove data’s head and take it with him. It is such an unexpected thing to have to do. I even liked the predictable problem of Picard being trapped with accursed children, especially when they are very small, scared, and crying. The character has softened up quite a bit by this point in the series. He is never tempted to pop the youngest one on the back of the head and snarl at him to straigh4en up like he probably would have in the first season.

I am split on the two more dramatic scenes. Crusher and La Frge have to open the cargo bay doors out into space in order to expel explosive canisters before the plasma fire works its magic on them. Their plan to do that without getting spaced is is harrowing and creative, if not a wee bit implausible. It is good to seea less comfortable solution to a problem than is usually seen on TNG.

The weaker dramatic scene involves the bridge crew. The tension is createdin earnest. Troi is in charge of the bridge even though she has no aptitude for command. The antimatter containment field is leaking, a problem which happens a lot in trek, and there is no way to fix it from the bridge. Ro wants to separate the saucer section before the the antimatter causes an explosion. Troi refuses because she believes people are still alive in engineering and can fix it. Ro thinks she is just incompetent.

Troi turns out to be right. It is a good thing she is, but I felt like Ro’s character was demeaned even further here after a bad inaugural appearance in “Ensign Ro.” Her insubordinate actions here do nothing but make her look like an ignorant hothead. Somehow, I suspect it was those character traits that got the away team killed and her sent to the stockade. Trek does character growth badly, but in Ro’s case, it is blatantly bad.

Aside for ro, it is a fun episode to watch. It does not reach the upper tier, but it is memorable regardless.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Silicon Avatar"

I seriously considered calling “Silicon Avatar” the worst episode of TNG, but I am still going to bestow that dubious honor on another installment. But at least you know where I am coming from here. This is a terrible, terrible episode.

It is not the plot that kills it. Trek generally does revenge stories very well, particularly when they have Moby Dick overtones. They have done that motif so often you might think it has become a tired cliché, but it still works. I have no problem with Marr, the guest character, pursuing the Crystalline Entity in order to destroy it for killing her sixteen year old son along with thousands of other colonists.

What irks me is Picard’s attitude. The Entity has committed multiple acts of genocide because it has to in order to survive. Nothing indicates it is a particularly intelligent creature. It is essentially an animal acting on instinct. I will concede the implication in “Datalore” it was intelligent enough to communicate with Lore and had a malicious demeanor, but those points appear to have been tossed by the wayside here. It is a long shot the entity can be reasoned with, yet that is Picard’s only goal.

Most of the crew goes along with Picard, probably out of loyalty. Riker is a lone voice. He agrees with Marr the Entity is going to go on killing unless it is destroyed. Picard takes an unfair jab at Riker that his feelings over losing a young crewman are tainting his judgment. Because communicating and compromising with a genocidal creature is much more important than justice for the murdered or saving any additional lives. Picard is--and I hate to say this--being stereotypically French. Kirk would have put on boxing gloves and battled this entity himself. He has practically dome so several times in TOS and, in my view, justifiably so. Picard’s attitude goes to show the progressive avoidance of conflict is not always the best way to go.

Marr eventually gets the opportunity to destroy the Entity while supposedly communicating with it instead, so she takes it. Later, data dispassionately informs her that her murdered son, for whom he possess personal journals and such as he was a repository for the destroyed colony’s knowledge, would be disappointed in her for ruining her career by taking revenge. He might very well have that attitude, but I would be surprised if he did not think his murderer ought to be stopped before countless more children are killed. So the show ends on the idea Picard was right. We should feel bad the Entity was destroyed.

Well, I do not. The moral lesson is a wash.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Ensign Ro"

As you can guess, this is the episode which introduces Ro Laren to the cast. I have mixed emotions about her. While adding an additional, edgy character with some sex appeal was a good idea, I do not believe it was executed well. Ro’s is angry and troubled for reasons which are only hinted. We know she watched her father tortured to death, so she has issues there, but the main conflict she has with the other characters is some ambiguous mistake on her part that killed an away team years ago. Riker in particular hassles her, choosing to berate her for wearing a religiously symbolic earring when other members of Starfleet have been shown to wear culturally significant items on their uniforms. As for her sex appeal, all right. Personally, I do not go for women who fly off the handle in between pouting sessions, but to each his own.

The episode also introduces the Bajorans and their conflict with the Cardassians. The story will be a focal point of the early DS9 episodes. It is only touched on here and in a couple other TNG episodes. I am just as much a fan of the pre-Dominion War DS9 episodes as when the main storyline took over the series, so I have to give credit to “Ensign Ro” for laying the groundwork. There is a lot of speculation who the Bajorans represent: Jews in the ’40’s, Palestinians, Kurds, or even gypsies. Their status in historical context is not the main focus of the episode, so the social commentary is not as heavy-handed as one might expect Trek to indulge in.

For the record, I think DS9 did well by not directly correlating the Bajorans with a specific ethnic group. There is a bit of French resistance from world War Ii in them, or at least the myth surrounding the resistance. Charles De Gaulle was propped up by the Allies in order to legitimize his claim to power for the post-war world. But that is an ax I have to grind about history books. There is also a quiet sense of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. By that, I mean that the Bajorans, once spiritual artisans, have sacrificed everything in order to survive. Israel has sacrificed just about everything that made the jews great in order to survive as well.

There are many parallels between the Israel of the Old Testament seeking deliverance from captivity through prophets and judges. Interesting stuff, but beyond the scope of ’Ensign Ro.” I really am going to have to cover DS9, no?

The plot of “Ensign Ro” has yet another high ranking Starfleet official going rogue. There is something bout becoming an admiral that seems to corrupt. You would think Gene Roddenberry would be against the idea of power corrupting near perfect 24th century humans, but trek often goes to extremes in the opposite direction. It has become cliché, really.

This admiral plans to use Ro in order to track down a Bajoran terrorist/freedom fighter accused of destroying a federation colony near the Cardassian border. It was actually a Cardassian plot to get the Federation to deal with their ’Bajoran problem.” The Cardassians are the ones who destroyed the colony and then pinned it on orta and his merry band of whatever you consider them.

Ro comes clean with the help of Guinan, further proving who utterly useless Troi is. It is the bar tender, not the ship’s counselor, who helps sort through Ro’s emotional turmoil. Even though picard is suspicious of Ro, he trusts Guinan’s judgment. He works with ro to expose the conspiracy. He requests she remain on the Enterprise after her mission is complete. She agrees, but only if she can wear the religious jewelry riker scolded her having. Picard consents, so eat it, Riker.

I know this will sound like an odd complaint considering how much of TOS and early TNG sets appeared to be paper mache and Styrofoam, but the outdoor setting used for the Bajoran refugee camp is the same area that Picard and Darthon battled the invisible monster in the previous episode. The setting will be used several more times, too, but it is particularly conspicuous when it come back-to-back. A lot of planets resemble the Southern California countryside.

A number of fans have complained about the Cardassian penchant for torture which is introduced here and used many times subsequently. I am not certain if “torture porn” was a term in use back then, but that is the idea. The Cardassians were shallow, brutal, and known pretty much only for that. I will grant that is true for most of TNG. However, the use of torture in “Chain of Command’ is not exploitive at all and “Lower Decks” shows a never before mentioned and never again addressed movement within the Cardassian Union to change their warlike ways. I will grant Cardassian will not be fleshed out well until DS9, but I cannot count the treatment of the Cardassians too much against TNG. They were never the main villains of the show.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Darmok"

“Darmok” is legendary in Trek lore because of its success in spite of taking two years to make it from concept to screen. Usually when a project languishes in development hell that long, the result is less than spectacular. “Darmok’ is based on the high concept of an alien race which speaks in metaphors and allusions, requiring one to be well versed in the species history and literature in order to communicate.

Michael Piller was excited from the beginning, but Rick Berman balked at the idea. Berman will also be the one naysayer in regards to the Dominion War storyline dominating DS9. Those two facts should tell you much about why VOY and ENT, for which Berman and Brannon Braga had total creative control, were so lackluster.

When the Enterprise makes first contact with a race, Picard and the other ship’s captain, Darthon, are transported down to a nearby planet. They must overcome their communication barrier in order to survive a battle with an invisible beast which keeps attacking them at random. Needless to say, they do so, and bond along the way.

The simple sounding plot does not do justice to what shows up on screen. It is a high concept episode like many written by Joe Menosky that some may find difficult to get into. The viewer is richly rewarded if can. Darthon’s way of communicating is so unique and alien. It is the kind of thing I wish trek did more of instead of arrogantly moralizing over contemporary issues.

According to the production staff, it is pure coincidence “Darmok” spelled backwards is “komrad.” hard to believe, all things considered.

Darthon is played by the late, great Paul Winfield. It takes a fine actor to make you care about a character who is not only buried under heavy make up, but has a nearly impenetrable way of speaking. He character fares much better here than the doomed Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

The episode introduces a couple elements to TNG. First, Picard now wears a grey undershirt with a red jacket. Yes, he becomes Starfleet’s version of The Fonz. Fortunately, trek will not fully jump the shark until the seventh season. Second, Ashley Judd joins the cast as Robin Lefler. She will only be prominent in one other episode, the truly awful “The Game,” but she has done all right for herself since.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Redemption II"

The fifth season premiere, while still enjoyable, is a bit of a let down from the palace intrigue of the fourth season finale. It is widely known the episode had not been written along with part one the same way “Best of Both Worlds, Part II’ was up in the air after the first part had been filmed. Fortunately, the reasons were less dramatic than the possible departure of Patrick Stewart.

But it was likely due to a casting change. While Denise Crosby had made a cameo in the season ending cliffhanger, Ron D. Moore has gone on the record as saying it was a tough fit to create her origin and slide her into the story. It is difficult to get the truth out of the powers that be at Trek, but by statements from Moore and Crosby, it sounds like Michael Piller wanted to milk the popularity of “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” Crosby wanted back on the show because her movie career never took off, and Moore was stuck trying to make it all work.

It does, in all honesty, but Sela’s appearance does have a tacked on vibe. She was thrown in at the last minute in part one for dramatic effect. Recall Crosby did not play Sela in the shadows back in ’The Mind’s Eye.” Perhaps it would have been best to give Sela her own episode rather than add her to the Klingon-Duras mix. Alas, she gets lost in the shuffle further down the line when Leonard Nimoy reprises his role as Spock in “Unification.” she never shows up again, even though the Romulans will be prominent throughout the rest of the series, Star Trek: Nemesis, and DS9. It is just as well. I always preferred Andreas Katsulas as Tomalok instead.

Another oddity is that Worf shares the spotlight with Data. You would not think data should be the hero of the day in a klingon civil war, but it happens.

A civil war does break out. Worf is serving on his brother’s ship instead of Gowron’s as was announced he would last episode. I f the continuity glitch was ever explained, I missed it. The war is not going well for Gowron. His allies are drinking ad rowdily partying with fatalistic flair. Meanwhile, picard is urging Starfleet to conduct a blockade between the Klingon-Romulan border because he suspects Duras’ side’s advantage is cloaked Romulan vessels shipping war materiel. It is a brilliant move that would only be considered provocative if the Romulans admitted they were involved in the war.

Here is where the story spins towards Data. The blockade is going to be made up of quite a few clunkers. The Enterprise crew is split up among the ships in order to have them all properly manned. It is not said, but the fleet is still suffering from loss of ships and personnel after the Borg invasion. Data approaches Picard clearly surprised he has not been placed in command of a ship. Picard accommodates him

Was that Picard’s plan all along? Probably, but it sets up doubts about data’s ability to command even though he has been in charge of the Enterprise many times before. His new first officer requests a transfer because he does not want to serve underData. He does not believe androids out to command living beings. His attitude, while a refreshing change from the usual perfect Starfleet officer’s, is heavy-handed atfirst glance. At second, he has a point. Data has had a difficult time dealing with people over the years. Maybe he ought not be in command. It is another one of those questions like whether Troi’s job to read other people’s emotions without their permission in order to manipulate them is ethical. It can be troubling to look honestly at some of these characters and assess their roles.

Data saves the day by exposing the cloaked Romulan ships. There is at least a hin the has changed his first officer’s mind about his fitness to command, but doubt still reains, as I think it should.

Sela is exposed, too, with her origin quickly told. It is weird, but I have read enough comic books to appreciate it.

Now back to Worf. He is captured by Lursa and B’Etor after they first try to win him overwith honey. Hedoes not go for it. When the Romulans are discovered, doras’ supporters begin dispersing and worf is freed before he suffers anything more than a beating. I find it odd the Romulan revelation was enough to halt support for Duaras. The spy in “The Drumhead’ knew the Romulans were part of the attempted coup. There could not have been that many of Duras’ supporters who were unaware.

Toral is captured. Gowron offers to let Worf kill him, as is Klingon custom. True to form, Worf abandons his Klingon nature for human custom, as all filthy aliens in Trek are supposed to do, and spares him. Rejoins the Enterprise. TheRomulans get away with impunity, because, you know, Klingons do not take just any old excuse to go to war with their sworn enemy. No sireee.

I like the episode, but it is not as good as the first part. It feels cluttered and trite in places. I have already said thesela bit should have been taken out for use elsewhere. I think thewar should have lasted longer to boot. Thestory probably merited three parts instead of two. Just my $ .02.

Let me throw in anote on the season as a whole. The show isstill in an upward tred that began in the third season, but there aresome polar opposite episodes in it. The highs soar, but the lows plumb the depths of sciece fiction hell. Some of my favorite episode appear, but at least three of the worst do, too. The interesting part ishow much of that unevenness is due to Jeri Taylor. She has that Russell T. Davies quality of being fantastic when she only hast o write one or two episodes, but awful when forced to produce more. At least Q does not appear anywhere.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Redemption I"

I started writing a review for “Redemption, Part I” earlier today. As I was wrapping it up, word crashed. For whatever reason, it ate the whole document. I could not even bring it up as a Tmp file in order to salvage something that is the way my luck is going as of late.

True to form, I said screw it and went on to other things. I do not have a heck of a lot of enthusiasm to rettread everything I wrote this morning, so here is a punchier version. Perhaps I will be able to clean up some points when I review part two. If not, well, we already know I have a habit of saying screw it.

“Redemption, Part I” is not only the fourth season finale, but the 100th episode altogether. Latter point mean we are well over the hump towards completing my reviews for TNG. The former means it is going to be hard to top the third season finale, particular when both episodes were promising a devastating war. The powers that be managed to pull it off by ending on a surprise they would be unable to keep under wraps today with internet spoilers everywhere. Savor the simpler time when cliffhangers were actually exciting because you had no clue what was going to happen. Even Lost, the current king of internet misdirection, has a mediocre batting average in this regard.

The episode is the penultimate story in the season long theme of the Romulan-Duras conspiracy to take over the Klingon Empire. It began with the selection of Picard as Arbiter of succession, the murder of the current chancellor, Worf’s discommendation under false pretenses, the murder of K’Ehlyer, and Worf killing Duras in revenge, Now is the time for worf to expose Duras’ father as the traitor and for Picard tp select the new leader.

As a side note, was it not odd for none of this to be mentioned in “The Drumead” during Picard’s inquisition? It was mentioned that Worf was the son of a traitor to the Romulans, but no one pointed out Picard was, in violation of the prime Directive, no less, the new Klingon leader after Worf killed one of the two main candidates for the job? Picard’s loyalty was questioned because of his time as Locutus, but not about his role as Arbiter of Succession. Doubly odd since the catalyst for the drumhead was catching a Klingon spy for the Romulans on board the Enterprise. You would think that might merit a mention at some point.

What is worse, Picard is tacitly manipulating Worf in order to make his job easier. He urges Worf to reveal Duras’ father was a traitor so the family shame will prevent any Duras from eligibility to be serve as chancellor. He even hypocritically blasts Worf for using data from the ship’s computer to clear his father’s name because that would be a violation of the prime directive, then stops himself when it dawns on him affecting political change will be a side result of Woef’s action. He will be actively changing a government. D’oh.

So Picard looks the other way while Worf hands off the exculpatory evidence to Gowron, the man picard is most likely to choose as the new chancellor. Worf pledges his brother and his squadron’s support in exchange for clearing his family name.

We are introduced to Luras and B’Ehtor Duras, the closest thing to big boobed sex symbols the Klngon Empire has to offer. They claim Suras had a son, Toral, who ought to be chosen chancellor. Toral is a snot nosed teenager who gets slapped around a lot, so he would be the perfect puppet for the Romulans. Lursa and B’Ehtor make sexual advances towards Picard to persuade him to choose toral. Surprisingly enough, it does not work. Neither would offering anything other than a stern, middle-aged school marm and I would not put too much confidence in that, either.

Picard chooses Gowron because Toral is too inexperienced. If only Lursa and B’Ehtor had selected a platform of hope and change, the result might have been different. The military is split on its support between Gowron and Toral, sothe empire plunges into civil war.

After doing all the damage he could, Picard takes heed of Starfleet’s orders to retreat. Worf requests an extended leave of absence. When he is refused, he resigns his commission in order to fight for Gowron. Ironic, considering what will happen between the two in DS9. The scene where al of Worf’s shipmates line the hallway to see him off is quite touching. Better still, it is the only time in the episode we have to see troi. Even more of a bonus--she has no dialogue. Woo hoo!

Like I mentioned above, we will never be caught unaware of a cliffhanger like this again. There is no way an actor could return to a series without every geek with a computer knowing it. It was completely out of left field, too/ was Tasha Yar resurrected? Cloned/ something else? It made for an interesting summer. Not as anticipatory as the Picard as Locutus bit from season three, but close.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"In Theory"

I think this is a first--a Data centric episode I do not particularly like. The show goes to great pains to make Data/Pinocchio “I want to be a real boy” parallels as possible, then every now and the gouges our eyes out with emphasis on his artificialness. “Data’s Day’ went a long way towards that end by featuring his awkwardness in understanding the nuances of sarcasm and put down humor. “In Theory” shows much more bluntly Data’s failure to understand romance.

One of his subordinates, Jenna, is on the rebound. She is using him as a confidant, although that appears lost on him. He is helping build her back up after a bad relationship without realizing, until she kisses him, that she is falling for him. Data decides to use the opportunity to study romantic relationships.

Here is what baffles me--none of his friends warn him he has no business conducting a relationship like any other experiment in human interaction he has done before. Heck, no one even tells him getting involved with a junior officer is a bad idea. La forge hasno advice to offer, which makes sense as he has been an absolute failure at romance. Troi, the ship’s counselor, inexplicably says go for it. So does Riker in one of his more sexual predator moments. Worf suggests conquering Jenna. He comes across as suggesting data bash her over the head with a club and drag her back to his cave. Picard, the alleged ladies man in his youth, professes an ignorance of women that seems like gynophobia.

Data decides to go for it by creating a program straight out of one of those ‘50’s instructional films. He is a stereotypical sitcom date, which I suppose is better than the drunken Pe Pe LePew he was in “The Naked Now.” It is difficult to watch because it is so over the top fake, but even worse so because Jenna, in her vulnerable emotional sate, buys into it much longer than any reasonable person would.

They do it all short of sharing a malt with two straws. Jenna finally has enough after Data fakes an argument with the idea lovers fight at times. Jenna tells him to end his program because their relationahip is over. He doesso without missing a beat. Jenna storms off hurt more than she was from her first relationship. The end reinforces the idea someone among Data’s friends should have been more honest about how bad an idea pursuing a romantic relation was.

There is a side story about data and Jenna working to repair a techobabble anomaly that causes awful things like this to happen:But it is a throwaway to pad out the episode. Patrick Stewart made his directoral debut here and notes, without a hint of ego, naturally, that it is his favorite episode. It certainly is not mine. It is a attempt to make a charming version of dean Koontz's Demon Seed.. It fails.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Mind's Eye"

“The Mind’s Eye” as The Manchurian Candidate episode. If you liked that movie, and I am not talking about the awful Denzel Washington remake, then it is a fantastic episode. I happen to bea big fan of The Manchurian Candidate, so “The Minds’ Eye” is right up my alley. It is different and incredibly disturbing.

Further proving he is the unluckiest man in Starfleet, La Forge is kidnapped and gruesomely conditioned by the Romulans to serve as an assassin. He is assigned to murder a Klingon governor in order to destabilize relations between the Federation and the Klingon Empire. The mystery is unraveled before he can pull off the murder, but a holodeck test run by the Romulans in which la Forge happily kills O’Brien shows his unquestioning willingness to take a life.

The scene in which he kills O’Brien is both a direct homage to a scene in The Manchurian Candidate and doubly disturbing considering how much the perfect morality of the main cast--well, except for that unenlightened alien, Worf--is inherent.

Sela makes her first appearance, although she is played by an extra covered by shadows and only voiced by Denise Crosby. She is in charge of the whole operation. “The Mind’s Eye” is also the first episode directed by David Livingston. He will go on to direct many others over the remainder of the series.

I am a fan of ’The Mind’s Eye.” It is unique and genuinely creepy. A point of note is there is not a true reset button. La Forge may no longer beat risk of becoming an assassin, but the memories of his ordeal remain once it is all said and done. Naturally, it never again becomes afactor or is even mentioned in any future episodes, but it is made clear not everything has been made kosher once the assassination attempt was stopped.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 23, 2009

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

“The Host” introduces us to the Trill, the symbiotic species of humans plus a slug. That is the only significant aspect of the episode. The romance between the trill odan and Crusher is established solely to set up the awkward situation where the symbiotic is in Riker’s body and then another woman’s. The latter host, who still has feelings for Crusher, gives the first hints of homosexuality in the 24th century, but it is not explored any further.

While this is the first appearance of the Trill, they bear no resemblance to what we will eventually see when Trill become a regular part of DS9. I assume that is because they were not supposed to be a regularly featured species, so why flesh things out? I find it difficult to believe Crusher knew nothing of the symbiotic relationship many trill have, particularly considering they are a vital part of the Federation and Odan is an accomplished ambassador. As for other odd aspects presented here, but no where else, the symbiotic would be damaged by the transporter and Riker completely loses his personality to the symbiotic when they are joined.

In fairness, those two are made for plot points. Odan is sent to mediate a dispute between two moons. He refuses to beam down, so when he is launched in a shuttlecraft, it is attacked. The human part is mortally wounded while the symbiotic is fine. Crusher joins the symbiotic with Riker so the negotiations can continue. So odan had to get in a situation to be injured and the symbiotic had to have the sole personality to make his reunion with Crusher bittersweet.

I consider this one run of the mill. It is another deal in which one of the regular cast members has to somehow sacrifice of himself in order to help negotiate a disagreement we do not really care about. It was done better in “Sarek” and “Loud as a Whisper.” This is not the most illustrious introduction to the trill, either. Since they will be gien justice on DS9, I will offer a free pass here. There is no reason to skip “The Host,” but there is no reason to seek it out, either.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Half a Life"

I am confident I have only seen this episode in its initial run. It is not so much that it is a bad episode, although installments featuring Lwaxana Troi usually are, but the morality play is so muddled. The story is about ritualistic suicide in order to avoid burdening one’s children with caring for them in old age.. Events take some twists and turns, but eventually Timicin, the guest character, opts to kill himself rather than refuse and serve as a force for cultural change.

The plot reinforces the incredibly selfish attitude the baby boomer generation has developed since coming of age that nothing should stand in the way of living their lives. The baby boomers are the first generation to consider abortion a civil right (do not be burdened by a baby) and abandon their parents in nursing homes (let the professionals handle them) because they have better things to do.

It is true the episode presents the people arguing for Trinicin’s death as going to ridiculous extremes to force him to commit suicide. For instance, he is a renowned scientist on the Enterprise in order to find a solution to his planet’s decaying orbit. His work will prevent the genocide of his people. But he has reached the age he is supposed to kill himself. When he falls for the visiting Lwaxana, she convinces him temporarily that he is too important to kill himself. By surviving and saving his planet, he will prove the practice of enforced suicide is stupid.

But his people will not go for it. After he requests asylum on the Enterprise, they send warships to retrieve him. Even if he finds a solution to the decaying planetary orbit, they will refuse to implement it because of his blasphemy. The final blow is when his daughter comes on board to insist he die, hence the I made of the baby boomer urge for the next generation to get the heck out of their way.

Trinicin agrees to go through with the suicide. Lwaxana decides to be with him as hedoes so. It is a moment of rare maturity for the character.

I remember feeling enormously uncomfortable with “Half a Life.” My Christian beliefs make even signing a DNR a decision with eternal implications. Attempts to justify suicide period, much less for the sake of convenience, is an issue not for exploring. The matter is settled that you should not only not do it, but no one ought to suggest it is a good idea. I understand respecting other cultures in the spirit offree will, but mercy, how demented can a culture get?

On the bright side, David Ogden Stiers is fantastic as Trinicin. He brings a quiet dignity to the role, very much unlike the pompous Charles Winchester he played for so many years on MASH. I do not believe they could have chosen a better actor for the role.

I will also grant this is the best episode featuring Lwaxana. That really is not saying much, but at least here they have given her something else to do besides serve as an egocentric man hunter. She never really grows anymore beyond that, so savor it while you can. The comic relief of Picard’s extreme efforts to avoid her are a quite refreshing change from his usual self and much needed in the tense episode.

Michelle Forbes makes her first appearance here as the daughter. Her performance lead to her eventually being cast as Ro Laren next season. I am convinced Ro was brought on as an edgy character to introduce the kind of friction Shelby would have if Patrick Stewart had not returned for the fourth season, shifting the dynamics around. But that is an analysis for another time.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

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

When I decided to review TNG, I knew several episodes were going to take on a different meaning in the post-9/11 world they had not possessed in the decade or so prior. Considering the generally progressive viewpoint of Trek, I assumed writing about those episodes would put me in a bind. I have comfortably argued against the political, cultural, and religious philosophy presented in various trek episodes with no problem, largely because it has been an academic exercise. What happens when I have to talk about current policy for which there has not enough time has passed for history to judge?

I found out with “The Drumhead.” in fairness, the episode was written in 1991 as an it cannot happen here kind of story meant to show that events such as the Salem witch trials and the McCarthy hearings can still happen in enlightened times. I doubt anyone took the possibility of such events happening again seriously. Who ever envisioned we would be at war with militant Islam after a devastating attack on our own soil in 1991? Or September 10th, 2001, for that matter? Well, it can happen here. It would be grossly unfair to judge the viewpoint of “The Drumhead” in light of today’s climate, so I am going to pull my punches, but I cannot ignore it, either.

The episode’s story ties in with the season arc of a Romulan-Duras conspiracy to take over the Klingon Empire. A Klingon spy is exposed to be a Romulan collaborator because he believes the Empire has grown weak by its alliance with the Federation. An overzealous Starfleet admiral takes the opportunity to root out other possible spies. First,she finds a crewman with a Romulan grandfather and finally vows to get Picard because of his various Prime Directive violations and assimilation by the Borg.

Before talking about anything else, I have to note the show falls back to its usual motif of the alien always being wrong until scolded by an enlightened human. This time around, Worf goes all gung ho with the admiral to root out spies while everyone else on the Enterprise is wary. The situation is odder still since he is eventually brought up as a security risk for his father allegedy being a Romulan collaborator, too. Given the admiral’s attitude, he should have been a target of suspicion all along, but an alien has to be wrong, so worf is the only choice to play McCarthy. It is almost laughable.

I cannot say much about Simon Tarsus, the crewman who lied about his Romulan heritage. The moral lesson here is we should not judge him based on his family. For that, I agree. I recall the absurdity of many Bush 43 critics pointing out his grandfather did business with the Nazis as thought that is some smear against his character. So much for enlightened progressives. But tarsus is different. It is not that his grandfather wasa Romulan. It is that he lied about it andsaid he was Vulcan instead. It is not anti-Romulan prejudice that nailed him. It was his dishonesty. I cannot be terribly sympathetic his career is now ruined. Had he told the truth to begin with, things would have worked out much better for him. Considering ferengi eventually join Starfleet, guilt by association is not a Federation tenet.

The crux of the episode is accusations of treason against Picard. In all honesty, I have to wonder why this did not come sooner. Why was Picard, who was completely assimilated by the Borg, destroyed 38 ships, and killed 11,000 on his way to conquer Earth, allowed to go back to commanding the Federation flagship without so much as a hearing to determine his fitness? Presumably, he knows everything there is to know about the Borg, so even under the best of circumstances, he should have been reassigned to whatever branch of Starfleet is dedicated to dealing with future Borg incursions. At worst, he should have been put on trial for collaborating.

Am I being harsh? Maybe. Perhaps Picard’s smooth return to the captain’s chair is an indication of enlightened 24th century philosophy. They just know he is fit to return to duty. The skeptic in me does not buy it. It does not seem right for the issue to takeso long to come up and a double whammy that the person who brings it up is made out to be a loon. Add in that Picard will allow Hugh, a captured Borg, to return to the Collective on his next encounter with them and the circumstantial evidence maybe Picard ain’t all there screams at you. It is true Picard may be on the up and up about all this, but there is no way to know all this except in hindsight. Only in Star Trek: First Contact is Starfleet legitimately concerned about his past connection with the Borg.

All this adds up to me seeing the point of Starfleet’s concern with tarsus and Picard. The concern is completely dismissed by making worf overzealous and the admiral crazy. Otherwise, “The Drumhead” would have been more Judgment at Nuermeburg than The Crucible. I am not certain that would not have been a better idea. It is still a good episode, particularly for a bottle show. In fact, I am going to give it four stars for being thought provoking. But I think it might have merited five stars had it not been so over the top. There are legitimate concerns here that could have been dealt with maturely, but were dismissed with preachy moralizing instead.

I did say above I was not going to tie “The Drumhead” in with the post-9/11 world of the Patriot Act, is Barack Obamaa a secret Muslim, Gitmo, etc. Instead, he is a YouTube clip od Picard’s inquisition. He answers his accusations, which may or may not be lrgitimate concerns, and takes a moral stand based on a quote from the admiral’s father. It is actually a tawdry move, but youcan pass judgment on how apt his viewpoint his in today’s climate rather than have me rail on it one way or another.Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Qpid"

Out of all the episodes from which TNG could make a sequel, why choose the sub par “Captain’s Holiday?” it is like the powers that be decided to make things as bad as possible by throwing Q into the mix as well. Add in an homage to Animal House, an attempt to cash in on Kevin Costner’s .Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and a holodeck show without a holodeck, and you have a mess. Oh, and Vash is back, as if anyone was clamoring for her.

The plot revolves around Picard, who is about to give a speech to a group of archeologists, running into Vash again. She is still a mercenary grave robber, but for some reason, is hanging out with legitimate archeologists on the Enterprise. Before I go any further, does anyone think it is odd for an archeologist convention to be taking place on the flagship of the Federation with the captain as the keynote speaker? I guess every Holiday Inn was booked up and every professional archeologist has a phobia about speaking in front of crowds or something.

Vash roams about the ship getting to meet the crew, much to Picard’s discomfort. She discovers he never mentioned her to anyone. This does not surprise and it should not surprise her. They did not hit it off in their first encounter. He was adamant about maintaining his privacy throughout most of their association. I assume her negative reaction just one of those weird woman things guys are never meant to understand as opposed to any notion “Captain’s Holiday’ was meant to have successfully bonded the two.

This is the point when Q shows up. Q has decided he owes Picard adent for protecting him when he lost his powers last season’s “Deja Q’ The odd bit about the situation is Q does not like being indebted to Picard. He is not really grateful about his help. Meanwhile, Picard does not want anything from Q. this certainly is not the first time Picard has been adverse to Q using his powers for good. Recall he forbade Riker from reviving a dead little girl when he possessed Q powers in ’Hide and Q.” Picard did ask him to m ove the moon back into place in “Deja Q,” but that is neither the first, nor last time Picard will act hypocritically.

But at this point, Picard refuses to ask for anything in spite of the fact making a request will cause Q to go away. It does not have to be something so extravagant as universal peace. How about a new head of hair?

Q gets the idea to place Picard and his crew into the story of Robin Hood, with Vash captured by Sir Guy and in need of rescuing. It is every man’s fantast of saving his fair maiden true love from the evil clutches of the villain. It really does not work here, though. Robin Hood is not most famous for rescuing Maid Marian. It is a stretch to see why Q thought the scenario was appropriate. The situation is reminiscent of sillier TOS elements, such as Trelane’s obsession with Napoleon or Abraham Lincoln fighting alongside Kirk and Spock. The writers are also trying way too hard to play for laughs, with Worf protesting he is not a merry man and smashing la Forge’s lute, a la bluto in Animal House.

(Being one who enjoys picking nits, why does trio’s arrow penetrate Data’s chest here when he is bulletproof in Star Trek: First Contact? I believe he is also cautious about bullets in ’Time’s Arrow” as well. Continuity, people. That is what a story editor is for.)

Picard runs off to rescue Vash after ordering his crew to not follow him. I suppose he does want play the hero after all. He breaks into the castle castle, but is captured by Vash herself. Being the mercenary type, she has decided she would rather be married to Sir Guy than beheaded by him. Um…she could have chosen option C and been rescued by Picard, but whatever.

The crew violates the captain’s orders and follows him anyway to rescue the two in the proverbial nick of time. Interestingly enough, the men get swords to fight with while Troiand Crusher must tend with clay pots. Silly girls, you cannot handle weapons. Those are for men. Feel free to speculate on the Freudian connection between swords as phallic symbols, women’s penis envy, and male potency issues. I sense a doctoral dissertation tin English Lit there, folks.

In the climax, patric Stewart finally gets, more or less, his original request for an adventuresses and guns story, albeit with swords instead. Q is intrgued by Vash, so the two run off together. Picard asks q to guarantee her safety asthefavor to him and q agrees. That was easy enough.

‘Qpid” is often cited as a fan favorite, but I think it is overrated. It is essentially anotherholodeck simulation story even if Q created it with his powers rather than holodeck technology. I still think it is a silly move to rely on fake settings in order to tell stories when these people are in outer space where anything can happen. Why not have Vash kidnapped by a real alien and rescued? That is assuming we have to have Vash back. Or Q, either, for that matter. The Robin Hood setting just does not sing or dance. Lancelot and Guinevere would have made morse sense. Heck, The Perils of Pauline would have made more sense.

The only saving grace of “Qpid” is the action sequences. They stand out in a show that is often too much talk, not enough action. In spite of all my complaints, I cannot call ‘Q pid” one of the worst episodes of TNG. It is just average. Thereare too many aspects to begin with that I do not care for me to enjoy the episode. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"The Nth Degree"

“The Nth Degree” is Barclay’s second episode after a year long hiatus. It just goes to show how little regard trek has for its secondary characters even when they are popular. Barclay is still the nebbish geek he was before, but this time around he gets to stretch his wings and play the self-confident scientist he has always wanted to be, albeit it is all temporary.

Barclay is hit by an electrical surge from a mysterious probe. When he regains consciousness, there is a slow, but steady change in him. He begins demonstrating increased knowledge on subjects he normally knows nothing about, such as chess. He spends an entire night debating theoretical physics with a holodeck recreation of albert Einstein. The changes in him climax when he builds a device in the holodeck which allows him to not only take over the ship, but send it to the center of the galaxy.

There the ship meets a disembodied head similar to the one who claimed to be God in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier. It is odd that when TNG wants to make an homage to TOS, it chooses the worst movie, one in which large parts have been declared non-canon, in order to do so. It works here for me. In the grand scheme of things, it means there was never any real danger involved in the plot, which annoys some fans, but I thought it was a nice change of pace. The emphasis was on the character development of Barclay.

Character pieces are rare for trek in general and lasting implications of character development even rarer. That is the only drawback to “The Nth Degree.” while it is understood Barclay was granted the intelligence to fly the ship to the center of the galaxy as a temporary measure by the alien explorers, the experience ought to have changed Barclay for the better. Subsequent episodes show that it does not. The memories of his increased self-confidence do not help much with his subsequent phobias and social anxieties. He is still an interesting character, but he should have been allowed to grow more.

I liked this one regardless of it flaws. The plot is a fine high concept plot that writer Joe Menosky, who has a background in technology journalism, is famous for writing. I even liked the 2001: A Space Odyssey homage in which riker asks the enhanced Barclay to stand down and he replies like HAL with “I’m afraid I can’t do that,” a subtle touch, but that sort of thing makes these episodes fun.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Identity Crisis"

“Identity Crisis” is further proof La Forge is the unluckiest guy in Starfleet. This time he is not unlucky in love, although you do get hints he ad the guest star, an old friend from a past ship he served on, might have had a thing going at some point. I think the writers decided not to break the poor guy’s heart yet again, so they turned him into an alien instead.

The plot involves a number of former crewmembers of the Victory suddenly abandoning their posts and disappearing. All these crewmembers, included La Forge and Leijten, were all part of an away team investigating the disappearance of 49 colonists from a remote planet. Turns out, the planet was and is inhabited by invisible aliens who propagate their species by rewriting the Dna of other aliens. All the Victory away team members are transforming into the invisible aliens.

The concept is pretty horrific and presented as such. The slow transformation is done remarkably well. The make up job is superb and must have been a monster 9pardon the pun) to suffer through. The moral issue of the transformations is glossed over a little too casually. This is how the species reproduces. Everyone of them was once someone else, but is now something new entirely. It is not like the Borg in which a person is brainwashed, but essentially the same biological entity before and after. This is a new life form altogether.

The cure Crusher conveniently develops is a genocidal weapon. We overlook all that because of our emotional attachment to La Forge, but the moral conflict ought to merit at least some consideration. The planet is quarantined at the conclusion of the episode, thereby ensuring the aliens will die off, so there is more to this than just hitting the reset button on La Forge.

Other than that, it is a god episode. The creep factor appeals to me. It is probably the fear of being altered into something so monstrous is probably why the issue of killing these aliens off is ignored. It is human nature. Spiders control the insect population, so we should be grateful for them. But I imagine when you encounter one, you either flee in terror or kill it. Fear is a powerful emotional that can make you forget just about everything else.

The episode also features some interesting guest stars. Former Miss Universe Mona Grudt, played an ensign. Radio disc jockeys Brian Phelps and Mark Thompson, who were enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame outside Los Angeles at the time, played two of the aliens. Mona is much better looking than either of them, even now:They grow 'em nice in Norway.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Night Terrors"

I am sorely tempted to call “Night Terrors” the worst TNG episode ever. There are three candidates for that title, but bad as it is, I cannot give the title here. It will come sooner rather than later, however, so sit tight. Feel free to speculate in order to pass the time.

The Enterprise is ordered to search for a missing ship. They find said ship with the crew having murdered one another, all except for a telepath. So right off the bat, we know it is a Troi episode. Spare me.

It is indeed a Troi episode. The ship becomes trapped in the same region of space as the one they were trying to rescue. Something there prevents them from engaging in Rem sleep, so everyone starts going crazy from lack of dreams. Except for troi, who is going crazy because of a recurring nightmare in which she is floating in air amidst other wackiness. Gratuitous butt shots do not make up for the lameness of the special effects.

The Enterprise is suffering the same dilemma it had in “Booby Trap,” namely it cannot use power. This is ironic considering leah Brahms was in the previous episode and it was her expertise that enabled them to escape in ’Booby Trap.” but escape they do when Troi discovers the entire problem is another ship is trapped, too. Their attempts to communicate with her are the nightmares she has been having. Their communication is also what is preventing REM sleep for everyone else.

The episode is aptly titled, because it is likea bad dream. I am not a Troi fan to begin with, so anything centered so much on her has to rise above the norm. not only does it not, plot elements are directly lifted from past episodes. I have already mentioned “Booby Tap,” but many of the hallucinations and violent outbursts the crew experience are similar to those from ’Where No One Has Gone Before’ and ’Sarek.” There is nothing original offered. Even the nightmare sequence, which could have been memorable, was more laughable than freaky. “Night Terrors” is not a shining Trek moment.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Galaxy's Child"

About the only thing I remembered about this episode before watching again it for this review is how pitiful it was. Take that two ways. One, the main plot involves the Enterprise accidentally killing an alien mother, leaving her child. Second, the character of la forge is degraded while trying to find romance yet again. This will not be the last time, but I do think it is the worst.

There is not much to say about the orphan. If you still cry when Bambi’s mother is killed, then you might be moved by it. I found much of the impact was lost over the absurdity of the child coming to think the Enterprise was its mother. They had to get rid of it, too, so you do not really have the time or desire to sympathize.

It is the Lafarge subplot that is most memorable. Leah Brahms, the designer of the ship’s engine comes onboard. You may recall in the third season’s “Booby Trap,” la forge called on a holographic version of Brahms to help him get the ship out of said booby trap. He fell in love with the hologram and, when he hears the real Brahms is arriving, thinks he will hit it off with the real McCoy.

Cue Ritchie Cunnigham singing “Blueberry Hill” on the way to the transporter room to meet her and you have la forge to a tee. Unfortunately, she is a b*tch on wheels. La forge nevertheless gives it the old college try. And fails. Miserably. As you can guess, she also finds the program La Forge used with her in it.

The two eventually bond as thwy discover away to wean the orphan off the ship. They agree to remain friends, which is justas well. She is married. Godbless the poor fellow who is stuck with her. God bless me for sitting through this clunker of an episode again.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"First Contact"

The powers that be finally broke the mold with “First Contact.” For the first time, we see what a first contact situation when the prime directive no longer applies would look like. What we get is an homage to ’50’s science fiction films in which the aliens are the Enterprise crew. I would call the plot The Day the Earth Stood Still meets a less cynical X-File.

Riker is injured while doing recon on a planet on the verge of developing warp speed travel. A medical examination reveals he is an alien, so it becomes a race to prevent the government from eliminating him while assessing the value of open relations with the people.

Many fans like this episode because it is so out of the norm for the series. It is the only episode in the entire run that breaks the edict a main cast member has to be in every scene. Trekkies are a cheap date if that is enough to get them excited. While I do find it fun, some of the writing falls a bit flat. I have a difficult time accepting the great Bebe Neuwirth of Cheers and Frasier fame was wasted on a throwaway National Enquirer sex with an alien joke. She is worth way more than that.

The problem--and it is a common one when a concept is developed first, story second--is too many writers took a shot at the script before the execution was finalized. There were at least six different pitches, including a season ending cliffhanger, leaving wesley behind as a cultural ambassador, and the crew becoming celebrities, before settling on the story as written. Elements from each pitch were put into “First Contact.”

While that sounds like it should work, writing is like the culinary arts. You cannot takea hamburger and add chocolate syrup, barbecue sauce, a cherry, and a sip of brandy and expect it to be good even though all those items taste great separately. That criticism applies to any episode credited to a number of writers, but it is blatant here.

The crew opts to not make first contact. There are too many potentially xenophobic tendencies within the population, particularly the government. Hence my comparison to the X-Files. Picardlamets not being able to remain in contact with some of the more enlightened people he encounters. In one somewhat hokey scene, one of them requests to come along on the Enterprise’s voyage. I call it hokey because Picard grants her request without ever clarifying whether she knows she will never be able to go home unless regular contact is established. We also never see or hear from her again. So her inclusion was just that wish fulfillment moment. Maybe I am being too cynical, but I thought it was handled as a cheap play on our emotions.

Overall, it is an entertaining episode. I am a fan of ‘50’sscienve fiction, so I can appreciate the homage. There are a lot of elements here shared with TOS’ “Return to Tomorrow,” I think TOS did better. That belief probably taints my view.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Clues"

Bruce D. Arthurs achieved every aspiring writers dream. His script for “Clues” was selected out of the unsolicited slush pile for production while he was working as a mailman in Arizona. It was doubly lucky, as the reqrite polish earned Joe Menosy a permanent writing staff job. Remember kids, if you want to be a professional screenwriter, make as unique a story twist as you can without requiring any new actors or set to produce. It might just sell.

“Clues” involves the crew waking up from an unconscious spell with the belief they have passed through a wormhole. However, clues mount up that they had been out much longer than that. When data begins acting suspiciously, they fear the ship has been compromised.

The episode is a solid mystery and quite fun for the audience to play with. It turns out an alien race called the Paxan the crew encountered wants to remain hidden, so the crew voluntarily has its memories wiped so they will forget they ever ran into the Paxan. Only Data knows the truth. But there are enough clues lying about for the crew to learn the truth until they clean up their tracks better and the Paxan give the mind wipe another shot.

An interesting point of note: the crew in general and Picard in specific threaten to disassemble Data in order to find the truth of what has happened to them. Whatever they thought about data being alive in ’The Measure of a Man’ flies out the window when there is a mystery afoot. Is that not jusy the way people are when threatened, even if it is just a perceived threat?

I liked “Clues.” it was different and fun. The sudden change in attitude about data suits my cynicism about people, too. Most bottle shows have a cheap, limited feel to them., but “Clues” rises above the rest.

Rating: *** ((out of 5)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Devil's Due"

‘Devil’s Due” is the second rewritten script from the aborted Star Trek: Phase II series from the ’70’s to be adapted for TNG. You can tell, because “The Devil and Daniel Webster” vibe is reminiscent of TOS’ theme of aliens possessing a hankering for earth history. The script transfers to new characters much better than the previous adapted episode, "The Child."

The story takes a distinctive anti-religion feel . Hey, we have not had an episode like that since "Who Watches the Watchers?” in the early third season.

The Enterprise is called to a planet to rescue a science team held hostage by a panicked mob who believe ancient prophecies of their eventual enslavement by the Devil are coming true. As you know, in any fit of religious fervor, scientists have to become victims. In between book burnings, of course.

There is an ancient myth that a Satan-like figure appeared to these people in the past and offered them a thousand years of peace and prosperity at the end of which they would become his slaves. The people, deciding to screw their descendants, said okey doke. At the end of the thousand years, there were supposed to be all sorts of apocalyptic happenings. Lo and behold, now there are.

Suddenly, a woman named Ardra shows up to claim the people as slaves. Picard assumes she is a con artist because because he does not believe in the Devil. He challenges her to test their contract in court with his immortal soul, which he does not believe he has, on the line.

They agree on data to serve as impartial judge and contest the contract. Picard argues that she had nothing to do with the planet’s thousand year prosperity. It was all the population’s doing. Ardra never so much as picked up a single piece of trash over the last millennium.

Eventually, la forge discovers Ardra’s ship and how she has been making earthquakes and various other religious iconic illusions to scare the people. Picard uses the Enterprise‘s technology to copy them. Why he never theorized to do that in the first place is beyond me. That is, after all, all it took to convince everyone she is not Old Scratch.

Religion in general and Christianity in specific are presented as ignorant superstition. The only reason the people of this planet straightened up and flew right was because they thought they had a supernatural blessing. In reality, the capacity for perfection was always within themselves. They should not give credit to any higher power, because look what happened when they did--they resorted to ignorant doom saying without any proof of its validity.

What we have there is classic humanist rejection of Christianity. There is a denial that a natural, sinful nature will impede utopia. There is the idea crediting religion for any good thing that happens is to deny the greatness of humanity itself. Finally, Christian belief brings about ignorance, superstition, and an anti-science attitude. But logic, reason, and technology alone save theday.

I see the point they are trying to make here. I cannot deny Christianity has caused its share of tragedies. But this episode is a blankt condemnation of the typical straw man view of a non-believer’s stereotype of what Christianity actually is. I found it heavy-handed.

Yes, I am aware the Ardra represents the Devil, not God. That is part of the point. God is being demonized. The story appears on the surface to be a ‘make a deal with the Devil’ plot, but a closer analysis says otherwise.

Not that “Devil’s Due” is a bad episode. It is not. There are some humorous moments where Ardra plays around with Picard by sending him down to the planet in his pajamas and data subtly relishing his power as judge. The special effects are some of the best of the series. When Ardra takes on the appearance of various underworld deities, it is genuinely scary. If you are not emotionally invested in Christian theology, this may well be one of your upper ier episodes. For me, it is entertaining, but not great. It drags me into apologetics mode too quickly for me to enjoy it much.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Monday, October 12, 2009

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

“The Wounded” is often overlooked when fans list their favorite episodes. That is a shame. For me, it is one of the high marks that caused the series to rise above its parent show. There are so many aspects of it that cause it to rise above many of therest.

Seasoned war veteran Captain Maxwell appears to have gone rogue by attacking Cardassian science vessels he believes are actually transporting weapons. The federation has been in a bloody war with the Cardassians for years. Now there is an uneasy peace in which many who fought in the war on both sides are finding it difficult to live. Picard has to ally with the Cardassian leadership to stop Maxwell before he causes the war to erupt again.

The plot is very similar to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, a film which would be released eleven months after “The Wounded” aired. As much as I liked the film--it is my favorite one featuring the TOS crew--”The Wounded’ executes the plot of old enemies finding it difficult to live in a new world of peace. Granted, it may be my cynicism shining through.

The Undiscovered Country was an allegory of the Cold War ended with a lasting peace established. The untrustworthy Putin aside, that came to fruition. In “The wounded,’ Maxwell was right. The Cardassians were prepping for an invasion, but he has to suffer as a broken casualty of a peace that perhaps should not be maintained. Maxwell’s fate--and that of the federation, since the Cardassians do ignite more than one conflict--appeals to my sense of irony.

Keep in mind “The Wounded” aired the last week of January 1991, so it was just a few days after Operation Desert Storm had begun. That was the first war my fourteen year old eyes had ever seen. At the time, I was attending a Christian school administered by Bob Jones alumni who really did fit the stereotype of believing every Middle Eastern conflict would bring about the end times. I have long since developed a wariness about pre-millennial theology. I am a pan-millennialist now, as I think it will al pan out in the end. But for a long time there, any discussion about a potential war could bring about apocalyptic dread in my social circle. “the wounded” came at the height of it all.

In spite of all that, I did support the war--assuming anyone cares what a fourteen year old thinks about such things. It has long been the standard policy of the united states to defend the free flow of oil out the Middle East. The conflict would have happened under any president. It just happened, with poor luck, to occur with a former oilman in the white house. You may recall shortly after the Iranian embassy was taken hostage, Jimmy Carter ordered a military exercise to practice seizing the oil fields of iran should tensions escalate. The united states has always been ready to protect the oil flow. It is vital to world stability.

Any theories that Saddam Hussein was the reincarnated Nebakanezer out to fulfill his Old testament dream of each period in history coinciding with segments of a statue built from weaker material--we are in the feet of clay period, you know--is for the Bob Jones people to squeeze in as they see fit.

Regardless, the impact was there on my young mind. There were the gung ho types around me who either saw the logic of liberating Kuwait or wanted to bring about the End Times. They were eager for war. I also saw the other side of the coin, with protectors wanting to prevent the war at all costs.

Consider how that dichotomy played out in ’The Wounded.” Maxwell knows the Cardassiansare up to no good. A war with them now might prevent a bloodier conflict don the road. Besides, they have perpetrated enough atrocities to merit destroying their war machine. Picard is charged with keeping the peace regardless even if he agrees with Maxwell’ssuspicions. He does, by the way, but makes the choice keeping a lid on it is in both their people’s best interest.

Did Picard make a mistake? It is hard to say even after knowing the cardassiansattempt to invade Federation space two years later, a conflict in which Picard is captured and brutally tortured, and joins with the Dominion in a conflict worse than anything the Federation had ever suffered. There is no way to know how an earlier war would have played out in light of what actually occurred. Secondguessing history is not a precise science.

But I can say my sympathies were more with Maxwell. He ought not to have taken the aggressive actions he did, but he is on the right track. He is a war broken man, but those are the people we need to listen to the most when it comes to deciding whether a conflict is worth fighting. I have written much hereabout how the gulf War affected me. Those memories have long since been replaced by a new, post 9/11attitude, but I can still feel a lump in my throat over the last few scenes where Maxwell and O’Brien reminisce over comrades killed in the war and begin singing “The Minstrel Boy.” One of the most poignant Trek moments is when he looks at O’Brien says pitifully, ’I’m not going to win this one, am I?”

Now for or a few wrap up points. ’The Wounded” introduces the Cardassians to Trek. It took mea while to war up to them, but they turned out to be great villains after a start when there was not much to them other being warlike. Granted, Cardassians do not really come into their own until DS9, but their potential was evident in later episodes of TNG. Marc alaimo, who played Gul Macet here, would go on to play Gul Dukat, who is my favorite trek villain of all time. Non-canon sources says Macet and Dukat are cousins, which explains their similar appearance.

Maxwell was played by Bob Gunton. He has had a long career in television and movies, most recently on Nip/Tuck and 24. I remember him best as the corrupt warden from one of my favorite movies, The Shawshank Redemption. Oddly enough, the warden and Maxwell remind me of each other.

“The Minstrel Boy“ is a moving song. It was written by Thomas Moore in remembrance of friends he had met at Trinity College in Dublin who were killed in the Irish rebellion of 1798. This YouTube video is the haunting, traditional arrangement featured in Blackhawk Down.

I imagine very few fans consider ’The Wounded” to be one of the best TNG episodes, but I have to give it five stars. It is a series highlight and the best script Jeri Taylor ever produced for Trek.

Rating: ***** (out of 5)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Data's Day"

It is not often trek experiments with different episode formats. When they do, sometimes it is considered better than it would otherwise merit just because it is so different. there will be examples of that further down the line, but I liked the oddity of “Data’s Day.’ I think my fondness is more than just data serving as my favorite character.

As the title suggests, the episode is a day in Data’s life. It is narrated by a og entry to be sent to Maddox, the scientist who wanted to dismantle Data in order to study him back in ’The Measure of a Man.” These letters sent to Maddox, which out to have a subtle “screw you’ tone to them, all things considered, are designed to show Data’s adaption to living with with social beings. It is supposed to prove how he functions much better than by taking him apart.

How well that works is debatable. At times, Data seems unusually awkward and regressed in his interactions with people. His inability to identify sarcasm or master friendly ribbing seems like skills he ought to be able to mimic perfectly by now even if he does not understand the concepts. He has demonstrated the ability to initiate and maintain friendships before this point. The episode shows he has even bonded with a pet cat. So a few things do not add up there.

Neither does the fairly large subplot that he needs crusher to teach him how to dance for O’Brien’s upcoming wedding. Again, he ought to be able to mimic dance steps perfectly by studying the moves without any learning curve more or less instantaneously. But for once, I am going to forgive that. The scenes where the two dance together are played out as a bonding exercise. At this point, the two characters never really have. I will chalk up Data’s need for actual lessons as dramatic necessity.

That forced smile of Data's when he is practicing with the holodancer is purely demented.

By the way, Gates McFadden and Brent Spiner did their own dance moves for that scene, save for one complicated overhead shot in which Spiner requested a body double. McFadden had been a famous choreographer in Hollywood long before she joined the show.

Michael Piller insisted the season’s running plotline be injected into the episode, so a subplot involving the apparent kidnapping of a Vulcan ambassador was added to give data a more traditional problem for him to deal with. Turns out the ambassador is a Romulan spy who used the Enterprise to return to her people. It is adecent fit here, since the subplot is not enough to carry an episode by itself.

“Data’s Day” is unusual, but well executed. The willingness to experiment with the standard episode format is one of the strengths of TNG over TOS. The episode also distinguishes itself by bringing the relatively background character of Miles o’Brien, who has been around since the pilot, to a more prominent role. Eventually, he will go on to become a major player on DS9, but that isafter he getsa chance to grow on TNG.

Bonus points for the episode having been written by Ronald D. Moore.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 10, 2009

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

I do not have a whole lot to say about ‘The Loss.” The episode combines two of the worst elements of TNG: a Troi story involving a techno babble solution to a conflict. Granted, both those situations have their amusing points. Troi’s temporary loss of her powers reveals her true character for the first time. The side story involving two dimensional aliens is also fascinating in certain respects, but still unsatisfying with the “science fiction” solution for escaping their grasp.

But the main plot focus is on Troi. She loses her empathic powers thanks to the ship being entrapped by the two dimensional aliens. To show what a poor counselor she is without her powers, she immediately decides to quit her job.

Now do not think I am about to be unsympathetic in my observations about her. I am empathetic, ironically enough. I have lost most of my vision and half my colon, changes on top of the regular disabilities I have suffered from which have drastically altered my life There is an immediate grieving process over such a loss that prompts one to completely escape the previous life lead over fear the new limitations will bring about failure. But this is a normal grieving process everyone who suffers such a loss goes through.

It is not really even that intimate a process even for severe life changes like spinal cord injuries. I had the opportunity after having hip surgery in 1992 to sit in on a couple sessions for patients who had recently suffered spinal cord injuries. Part of the idea there was to let people with lesser problems--my new artificial hips were a blessing, but difficult to get used to--understand the lesson about cursing your bunions until you meet a man with no feet. Anyway, I was shocked by how much of a cold, tough love tactic the therapists took. I have never forgotten that is how it works. When one decides to give up early, starting up again later is next to impossible.

As a counselor, Troi should know that and be able to help herself. Maybe she does, but just cannot because she has relied too much on her ability to read other people’s emotions whether they wanted her to or not. This episode, more than any other troi-centric installment, confirms my belief that the use of Troi’ empathic abilities are unethical. It is not exactly like reading someone’s mind, but it is close. Troi has developed such a reliance on her ability to violate her patient’s privacy, she has developed no other counseling skills. She does not have a choice but to quit.

This is not the first time the ethics of empathic abilities has been explored. “The price” featured a character secretly using his abilities as a negotiating advantage in business deals. It will not be the last, either. Picard will briefly state his wariness of using Troi as an interrogator in “The Drumhead,” though he will never mention the thought again. After the ship escapes from the aliens, Troi’s abilities return, so she happily returns to her job. The status quo is not exactly the same. It will take awhile, the sixth season’s “the face of the enemy,’ until the show embraces the sinister aspects of Troi’s abilities by having her serve as a sp, a role she fits into well. Further proof she is not the sensitive, caring character she is made out to be.

I will admit personal ego stroking over having trio’s true nature pegged is the only saving grace of “The Loss.” Your mileage may vary. I skip this one if at all possible. There is nothing else to see as far as I am concerned.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Final Mission"

Rejoice, people! Rejoice! “Final Mission” is the last regular episode featuring Wesley Crusher. He will make three additional appearances, but only “Parallels” will be good. The other two give Wesley way too much credit. In one, you have to believe he is special to the universe. In the other, Ashley Judd digs. Him. I cannot decide which one is more implausible.

For the lone Wesley fan curled up in the corner quietly weeping, the episode probably has some bittersweet moments. It does not for me. I never cared much for the pseudo-father/son relationship between Picard and Wesley and at this point, I think Starfleet academy just let Wesley in the middle of the semester just so he would finally stop applying for admission. He has missed out, what…four times now? Heck, Picard gave him a commission figuring he would never make it on his own.

A spot does open up in the middle of the semester and Wesley gets it. He has to leave soon for earth, but Picard lets him go on a final mission with him, probably to make up for being such a jerk on their last trip together in “Samaritan Snare.”

Picard is set to negotiate a mining dispute. He and Wesley are to be taken to the mining colony by Drigo, a drunken has been captain of a mining shuttle. Has there ever been a first class mining operation ever shown in Trek? I cannot name one.

The shuttle crashes on a desert moon. Drigo had to skimp on supplies, so they have no provisions to survive on. The three of them must cross the desert towards the distant mountains for protection from the elements. When they get to some caves, they discover a water source protected by a force field. What, they could find something like that on an uninhabited moon. Drigo, being a drunken idiot, fires his phasor at the force field, causing an avalanche. Picard shoves Wesley out of the path of falling rocks and is gravely wounded for his effort.

Can you count the plot contrivances in that last paragraph? Jeri Taylor’s Janeway worship in VOY was only a fraction of her deficiencies writer.

Needless to say, Wesley saves them all by removing the force field. But it is the interim, where he has an emotional exchange with Picard while trying to keep him awake, that makes the episode for Wesley fans. Picard admits he envies Wesley’s youth. Wesley confesses he always wanted Picard to be proud of him since his father is no longer around. You know, because Picard’s actions lead to his death. I am really cynical about this, but I am glad others are moved by it. I am just glad Wesley is gone and this paint by numbers plot is mercifully over.

The only high, aside from the departure of you know who, is the softening of Picard. It is not expressly said, but I think his experience as Locutus has made him more patient with others and willing to show his true feelings. He no longer thinks that isa weakness. I doubt he would have opened up to Wesley as he did at any point in the previous three seasons. Even his Nausicaan story in “Samaritan Snare” left out many details he did not think were any of Wesley’s business. The difference between then and now is as close to character growth as Trek gets.

Oh, did I mention Wesley is gone now?Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Future Imperfect"

The fourth season of TNG only has a handful of weak spots. “Future Imperfect” is one of them. I am usually sucker for alternate reality plotlines. It comes from reading too many comic books. There are two problems with the alternate reality shown in this episode that ruin it for me. First, it comes shortly after the similarly plotted “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” which set the bar extremely high. Second, it turns out to be just another holodeck show. Why does trek constantly fall back on that tired premise? These people are out in space where anything can happen. Why not rely on a more fantastic explanation for events?

Riker wakes up in sickbay sixteen years after his last memory to discover he is captain of the Enterprise, is a widowed father, and assigned to negotiate a peace treaty with the Romulans. Riker is noticeably befuddled, but goes along with the explanation an illness has erased the memories of the last few years. Cracks begin to show in the reality and the writing.

Among other things, Data uses contractions, La Forge displays a gross incompetence at his job, and there are some really hokey moments between Riker and his “son.” I am going to cut some slack here because the simulation is designed by a lonely alien child who desperately wants a parental figure, so he kidnaps Riker and creates a reality for him. Therefore, the simulation would have a child-like logic to it. It just seemed like bad writing to me.

It should not have taken Riker the bulk of the episode to go looking for photos of his dead “wife.” the discovery is the nail in the coffin for the simulation, since Riker’s wife never existed in reality. She was the woman the Bynars created to distract him when they stole the Enterprise back in the first season. It is a nice touch to use the same actress as before, but dumb looking her up is not the first thing he does.

Ditto on naming the kid Jean-Luc. I do not see Picard and Riker as being that connected. What would possess him to name his kid after Picar? The worst offender is when all has been revealed and riker offers to take the insect child back to the ship. The alien tells him his name, but Riker replies, ’You’ll always be Jean-Luc to me.” Gag me with a spoon.

I did not go for this episode. There is not much about it to recommend save for the Cgi of the alien child. It is quite good for the time period. But “Future imperfect” falls into many of the same traps as most bad episodes of TNG: it isa holodeck story, thereare children involved, there is an intimacy of relationships the characters do not normally have, there is at least one point of illogical begavior by a character to further the plot, and the climatic twist is not great. In fact, it gets dragged out to another simulation where Riker and the kid are prisoners of the Romulans. It was just too much.

The episodes does predict the future with a high degree of accuracy. The Ferengi Nog will join Starfleet. So will half-Kilingon B’Elonna Tores. The episode takes place in 2383, four years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis in which the federation and the Romulans are to negotiate a peace treaty. These pointsdo not save the episode.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Reunion"

“Reunion’ is a great episode in many ways. It touches on the two main themes of the fourth season; family and the Romulan-Duras conspiracy within the Klingon empire. K’Ehelyr returns, but suffers a tragic fate. Gowron appears for the first time. He will play a prominent role all the way through the final season of DS9. Finally, we get to see Worf fully embrace Klingon tradition. All this and a Ronald d. Moore writing credit. What more could you ask?

Oh, yeah--no Alexander. K’Ehelyer shows up with Worf’s son. he would have to have been conceived during her second season visit, but he looks to be about four years old here. Those Klingons grow like weeds, no? K’Ehelyr does not even bother to break it to Worf gently. She just beams over to the Enterprise with him. Hello, daddy!

She is on official business, however. The current Klingon chancellor is dying. He wants Picard, someone he can trust, to serve as Arbiter of Succession in order to select a new chancellor. He believes he has been poisoned and therefore fears power will fall into the wrong hands.

Serving as Arbiter of Succession would certainly be a serious violation of the prime directive, but the moral conflict there is overshadowed by Klingon politics and Worf’s personal issues. The latter two are what makes the episode shine, so I can overlook the conniption fit Starfleet must have had over the news of Picard’s actions in affecting political change in the Klingon empire.

You have to pity poor Worf here. He is still suffering from discommendation in order to protect the Klingon empire from falling into a civil war which it is about to erupt anyway. He has a strained relationship with K’Ehelyr which has gotten even more awkward since she has a kid she just sprung on him. If all that was not bad enough, when K’Ehelyr refuses to play politics with Duras, he has her killed. Worf is forced to honor Klingon law and kill Duras in revenge.

I am not certain how many times I have seen this episode over the years. A half a dozen would be a good guess. Every time I do, I think back to the original broadcast when I first saw worf kill in cold blood. It was such an un-Trek moment that it was great. The main characters are always forced to play by such strict rules of conduct, you wonder how they can function in settings that rarely let you have your morals. It was not only a breath of fresh air to see a character cut loose, but have the audience cheer on alien morality for once.

There is an added poignancy to k’Ehelyr being such a good character, but meeting an abrupt, tragic death. I would have preferred she join the cast rather than Alexander. Thankfully, we still have a while before that happens. Worf sends him off to his foster parents’ home in Russia. It isa tough break for the kid to lose one parent, dumped by another, and forced to be the only Klingon kid on Earth.

Worf’s murder of Duras will eventually lead to the Klingon civil war in the season finale. Picard scolds Worf for his actions, although it is extremely hypocritical considering Picard is now obligated to chose the destiny of billions of Klingons. But picard has always been a do as I say, not as I do kind of guy. What can I expect? I consider Picard to be the only weak part of ’Reunion.” Indeed, of the whole storyline. But that can be elaborated on later.

Rating: **** (out of 5)