Monday, November 30, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Man of the People"

It is well known I have not enjoyed episodes centered around Troi. She is the most inconvenient character because her sole ability is to read other people’s emotions without their permission. To me, that is a terribly unethical violation of privacy. The moral question has been addressed several times, but always dropped in order to keep the character pure-- or as pure as she can be when used secretly in negotiationsand interrogations.

I hate to be harsh about it, but in “Man of the People,” she uses her abilities to a completely evil measure, albeit under someone else’s influence. Yet they lay it out for you exactly how harsh the consequences of manipulating emotion is.

The episode isan homage to The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. In the novel, Dorian isable to maintain his youthful appearance by projecting the consequences of his actions on a portait of himself. In “Man of the People,” Alkar does the same by projecting his darker side on other people.

Alkar isan ambassador famous for his cool demeanor. He is on his way to negotiate peace between two parties on a warring planet when it ship is attacked. It is rescued by the Enterprise, which is then assigned to escort Alkar to the peace conference. He beams aboard with a batty old woman he claims is in mother. She immediately screeches at troi that she cannot fall for Alkar even though she knows the little Betazoid hussy would like nothing better.

Troi later confides in Riker she senses pure evil out of the woman. He shrugs it off and assures her the old bag is just senile. The empath bows to his superior wisdom on the emotional health of people. It is probably just because she wants to hook up with Alkar like the woman said she would. The two start to bond when the old woman finally kicks the bucket.

Crusher would like to perform an autopsy, but Alkar claims his religious views forbid it. She whines to Picard there is something fshy about how fast the woman deteriorated, but unless there is a clear and present danger to the ship, Picard has to respect alkar’s cultural beliefs.

Alkar lures Troi into his influence by tricking her into performing a funeral ritual with him. Why she could not see through this when the recipient of all his dark thoughts is dead , especially in light of how quickly he himself dies once troi is freedand he is in between victims at the climax. But anyway, she is under his spell.

She ages slowly at first in order to allow her evil behavior to manifest itself without raising much suspicion. She seduces a young officer and chews out Vinnie’s girlfriend from Doogie Howser MD before clawing up Riker and stabbing Picard in a jealous rage.

The sequence where she, as an old woman, attacks Picard while demanding Alkar take her with him is the most poorly thought out segment of the episode. Alkar knows troi is going to suffer this kind of change and he cannot lie and claim she is his mother to cover it up. He should have had a better plan to cover up his actions.

Troi’s violent act prompts Picard to allow the autopsy to be performed. They learn Alkar’s 93 year old mother is actually a 40 year old stranger. Troi is suffering her fate.

Alkar refuses to leave the conference, so Picard beams down to havea word with him. He arrogantly admits everything he is doing. He considers Troi a tragic, but small price to pay in order to save lives. Under some circumstances, one might argue that is true. But Troi is dying solely so Alkar can purge his dark side. There is nothing ethical about that or necessarily for peace to be negotiated between warring parties.

The crew plans to let Troi die and strand Alkar between connecting with another person before reviving her. The plan works, even though they never let his intended next victim in on it. That is not very sporting. Alkar dies of extreme old age when he cannot get rid of his evil side.

Some fans are irritated Alkar has by his own admission developed this ability himself rather than it being a product of his species, similarly to Garth of Izar’s miraculous shape shifting abilities. It does not bother me. But I have been a fan of The Picture Dorian Gray since an English TA recommended it as her favorite novel in my sophomore year of college. It is one of the few ’modern’ classics that does not fall into overrated pseudo-intellectualism. (Hello, Catcher in the Rye) I can even forgive some of the laps in logic I described above. “Man of the People” is not the greatest, but it is very good for a Troi episode.

Rating: *** (ot of 5)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Realm of Fear"

“Realm of Fear” is not remembered as fondly as it might. It does not live up to its intention of serving as a frightening experience of creatures attacking crew as they are beamed over distances. Instead, the emphasis was more on Barclay and his constant battle with multiple phobias.

It does not bother me, however. I am more fond of Barclay than most, perhaps out of nostalgia for Dwight Shultz’s portrayal of H. M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, but more so that he is such an unusually flawed character. Usually when a trek character is written with an exaggerated emotional issue, it is to obnoxiously make a point. Think of Ro’s role as the bitter, angry child who never grew up. She is insufferable. Barclay, for his annoying quirks, is still a good guy who tries to work through them for the good of everyone. I would certainly have rather seen more of him than roe.

Here Barclay deals with transporter phobia. Why not/ those things have proven to have some nasty consequences over the years. His fears are confirmed ashe believes he has been bitten by a giant worm while transporting from the derelict Yosemite. The emphasis switches away from whether the worms exist and what threat they may pose to whether Barclay is being a nut about the whole thing.

The matter is resolved when he transports again, grabs one of the worms, and materializes with it. It turns out to be one of the Yosemite crew. They escaped certain death by trapping their patterns for hopefully eventual rescue. So Barclay winds up being the hero by overcoming his fear.

“Realm of Fear’ was trying to be a classic horror film homage with strange, sinister creatures attacking attacking victims in a nightmarish scenario, but it does not work in that way. It is a Barclay character development episode. I like it anyway because of that, not in spite. Plus, “Schisms” a few episodes down the line will tackle a plot much along the intended lines of “Realm of Fear” and knock it out the park.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Time's Arrow, Part II"

The second part of “Time’s Arrow” marks the beginning of TNG’s finest season. At the risk of sounding cruel, I think much of its virtue has to do with the lack of Gene Roddenberry’s influence. Many of the season’s plotlines vary widely from Roddenberry’s utopian idealism into the shadier aspects of morality. Picard and Troi take part in some subversive cloak and dagger operation against the Cardassians and Romulans, as a for instance. It is a breath of fresh air to see there is not always an easy way out for our heroes. It is also a preview of good things to come from DS9.

All that said, I am going to knock this episode a bit. It is not as good as its set up for a couple blatant problems.

First, the illogic of time travel. I like time travel stories in general. They do not stand up to a whole lot of scrutiny in terms of real science, but as long as there is consistency within how time travel works within the same story, I am cool with it. So here is my problem: when Picard is stranded in the 19th century, Riker angrily demands Guinan tell him how to rescue him. She refuses, saying it will change history. But at the same time, Samuel Clemons has traveled to the 24th century instead of Picard. So not only is Guinan’s argument moot since history has already been changed by Clemons’ disappearance seventeen years before his historical death, but his disappearance would surely have a bigger impact on history as a whole. He still has nearly two decades of living to do while Picard is going to die in the cavern without leaving any further mark. Yet there are no noticeable effects for Clemons’ presence in the future.

What is bothersome is both clemons’ and picard’s predicaments are happening simultaneously, making one wonder what is the big deal about changing history?

Second, Data spends the rest of his life with a five hundred year old head with no apparent effects. Yes, it was stated in the previous episode Data might exist indefinitely, but that presumes he stayed intact with proper maintenance, not having his head collecting dust in an old cavern for half a millennium it is possible la forge could have cleaned and brought the head up to spec, but that is merely assumption. It does not matter, I suppose, since no mention is ever made of it again.

It is a missed opportunity, honestly. An older, battered head could explain why the ageless Data was againg right along with Brent Spiner. Did no one ever think of that? The ancient head would have served asa ready made answer for the elephant in the room problem.

Finally, Picard and Guinan’s relationship. Ithas been forever hinted they share some wonderful bond. There are only two possibilities we know of at this point. One, they were in the Nexus together during StarTrek: Generations and two, he nursed her to health here. Neither of the two possibilities appears to merit the devotion Guinan and picard have for one another. It is disappointing.

I am not terribly down on this episode, however. It is an exciting story in spite of its flaws. They ran the risk of hitting into the goofier aspects of TOS--fighting evil alongside Abraham Lincoln is most apt--by featuring Clemons as a pivotal character. But it ultimately worked, save for the logical flaw of understating his importance in thetimestream.

I also liked his final exchange with Picard. He told Clemons the Enterprise Was a ship of exploration. Clemons says that is usually code for warship. Picarddenies it, because Starfleet never, ever, ever leaves anything buta positive impact on every alien culture it lectures in the ways of humanity. Clemons should have run into the genocidal Janeway instead. That would have been an interesting conversation.

Not a bad episode, but it does not quite measure up to the first.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Time's Arrow, Part I"

We have reached the season finale of what has been enormous highs and craterous lows, but more of the former than latter. After two season finales of epic battles, the powers that be wisely chose to make a more personal finale. They also decided at the last minute to use a cliffhanger because fan buzz about the upcoming DS9 was fueling rumors TNG was ending. The story was then expanded in order to prove the show had a bright future.

Indeed, it did. the sixth season is Tng’s high point. But I will start in on that tomorrow.

A big point I have to compliment on is the decision to not have data travel to contemporary times, although that was suggested early. Trek has done that a number of times, but so far, only TOS has done it well with “Return to Tomorrow” and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I am going to be generous and exclude the mediocre “Assignment Earth” since it was mostly a backdoor pilot for a proposed Gary Seven series that never materialized.

I like DS9’s “Past Tense, Part I/II,” but I thought pretty much everything about DS9 is top notch. I am not so fond of VOY’s “Future’s End, Part I/II” or Ent’s “Carpenter Street.”

It was an interesting touch to use 19th century San Francisco as the setting, although it does not stand up to a whole lot of scrutiny. If the logic of parasitic aliens traveling back in time during a cholera epidemic is so they can kill lot of humans undetected, then it would have been more logical to trvel back to medieval times when the Black plague would have for better cover. Doubly so because of the prevailing superstition of the time. If any of the aliens activities were exposed, they could be chalked up as witchcraft.

I bet this scenario was brought up, too. The idea may have been nixed because “QPid’ had already taken place in roughly the era, but the sixth season will have ’Thine Own Self,” an episode in which an amnesiac Data is marooned on a medieval level planet on which he wound up “dying.” All that certainly appears to be ideas which could have fit in here had “Time’s Arrow” been set during the Black plague but that is all speculation.

What we do get is still good. An archeological team in San Francisco discovers data‘s severed head along with evidence aliens had been there five hundred years ago. What I really enjoyed about the episode was how it dealt with mostly with personal issues while leaving the plot with the aliens for the conclusion. The main character all come to term with how they feel about Data, including himself. They all conclude, once and for all, he is more than a machine. They have concern for the life of their friend. Data experiences comfort in knowing he is now mortal, which makes him feel less artificial.

But you cannot change fate. Data winds up transported to the past through an energy blast. There he winds up trying to blend in until he can figure out his next move. Along the way, he encourages Jack London to take up writing and arouses the suspicion of Samuel Clemons.

Jerry Hardin, more meaningful to me as Deep Throat on The X-Files, is nevertheless delight here as the cynical Clemons Hardin became so enamored with playing the author in these two episodes, he wrote a one more show based on his life and toured with it for years. Hal Holbrook has a more famous reputation for portraying Clemons, but Hardin deserves much more accolades than he has received for it.

The cliffhanger involves data’s friend traveling back in time to rescue him and stop the aliens. Perhaps not in that order. It is a fantastically ending anticipatory of things to come.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "The Inner Light"

“The Inner Light” does not need much introduction, does it? It is the most personal episode since TOS’ “The City on the Edge of Forever.” not surprisingly, those are two of only four trek episodes to win Hugo awards for Best Dramatic Presentation. It is such a uniquely fascinating, poignant episode.

The Enterprise encounters a probe which takes over Picard’s mind. As the crew struggles to revive him on the bridge, he lives the life of Kamin as he and his family live through the dying days of his home world, Kataan. Picard experience as Kamin spans decades. At first, he has a tough time adjusting. He has a wife, a best friend, and hobbies which are all brand new to him. As he acclimates, he learns a severe drought is ravaging Kataan and suggests a solution which is ignored.

As time goes on, Picard falls in love with his wife. They have two children, one name dafter his long since dead best friend. The drought continues until the point everyone realizes the soil is irreparably damaged. The planet will be unable to support life soon. The leadership decides to assemble the history and experiences of the people of Kataan into a probe to be sent out into space. As an elderly widower, “Kamin” watches it go.

“The Inner Light” is profoundly touching. I consider it an unspoken bit of wish fulfillment for Picard. By his nature, he does not seem to be a family man, although as Star Trek: Generations showed, he would like to be. It is one of those cases in which the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Close relationships are beyond his ability to handle.

I imagine that is why he joined Starfleet. As an officer, he is afforded the opportunity to bea hero, the save people and to make peace all while never sticking around too long to get attached. He can fill the emotion void of no close relationships with the knowledge he has positively impacted people without any deep impact on him. He is a psychologically damaged man, which may just be the result of poor writing in the early going of the series, but it definitely there.

Here he has been thrust into an uncomfortable situation which probably does take him every minute of the early years to which to acclimate. We he eventually does, we see Picard’s full potential as a warm, personable family man. Attempting to solve the drought problem is the old Picard. Tackle a problem without much emotional investment. The family life/ that is Kamin. Kamin shows how an emotionally undamaged Picard could bea complete package.

“The Inner Light” leaves a lasting impression on Picard. He gives his daughter the same seize the day advice he offers Riker in Generations. I am inclined to think the relatively peaceful domestic life probably healed most of the scars from his time as Locutus. It certainly is not like we saw much else that would have done so.

In a fine final touch, Patrick Stewart’s real son Daniel played Kamin’s son.

I would like to segue into something personal. I did not get to see “The Inner Light” until it was repeated in the late summer. I had missed first run episodes in the past, so it was not too odd even though my cable system ran new episodes on three different occasions over the weekend. (Okay, that is actually unusual, too. I am from the sticks. Weekends on television were football NASCAR, fishing shows, and Hee Haw. How I was blessed with TNG and DS9 is a miracle.) Anyway, the point is missing out on “The Inner Light’ sticks out in my mind because of what was going on in my life at the time.

This was the spring of 1992. I was fifteen. My parents were just wrapping up their knockdown, drag out divorce, although they were going to continue a petty battle over furniture on other assorted bric a brac for another solid year. My father was under court order to buy my motherand me a house. We were set to move in the first week of June.

Life goes on even when your parents areacting like spoiled brat teenagers, so during all this I was scheduled to have a double hip replacement done the last week of June. This surgery was entirey voluntary. It was designed to alter my gait in order to increase y stamina. I am not interested in escribing what I was like before, but just know that I could walk short distances on awkwardly bent legs, but neededawhellchair for long distances. I needed to wait for surgery until I stopped growing, but I would not stop growing until too close to college. So hey, let us do this in the summer of my fifteenth year in the middle of a messy divorce. That is the way I like it. Nothing easy.

The plan was for meto finish ninth grade, move into my new house, and havea bit of a break before surgery. The surgery would eventually be a vast improvement, but it promised to be--and delivered on the promise--a hellish rehab and recovery that I did not completely bounce back from for a year.

Everything was thrown for a loop when the surgeon rescheduled me for the middle of may unexpectedly. He was an expert in this hip replacement procedure and was set to address a professional conference in Italy about it. Well, I cannot compete with that, so everything was thrown for a loop as I had to forgo the planned schedule to accommodate the surgeon.

I had faced many, many surgeries by this point in life, both orthopedic and a couple kidney stones which cause some surprisingly nasty problems. Ithad been many years since I had done so by this point. We always had traditions about it. One was to visit my greatgrandmother for prayer. She was practically immobilized andeaten away with cancer for years before she finally passed on. She never lost her christian devotion through it all. We figured if god listened to anyone, He would listen to her. Shewas long gone by this point. The other tradition was to havea treat weekend prior to surgery.

In a lot of ways, both of those were aimed at assuaging achild’s fear. As you get older, they seem less necessary because the older you get, the less people care. you are just expected to deal with things. If you annot, the world will leave you behind. Life was certainly in flux at the tie. I had already been left behind by much of what I knew. I was not a kid anymore, either. I fully expected the next few months were going to be one of those experiences where I just had to deal with it.

I still got my treat weekend. It was just my mother and me now, as it would be for the rest of her life. It wasscaled back to acouple movies and some very nice restaurants, but it was the last one I ever got. From that point on, I was a full fledged member of the Darwinian society of deal with stuff as it comes or else. Sometimes survival is the only reward.

I missed “The Inner Loght” the first time around because of all that. But I remember sitting in acushy easy chair in my new house with my knew, aching hips near the end of summer watching it for the first time and drawing so many connections about change, family, growing older with all the inherent gains and losses. It came aroundthefirst time in months that I had been able to takea breath and reflect instead of facing a constant barrage of drama. As you can imagine, it took on a special meaning. I would give it fivestars just for that.

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

Thursday, November 19, 2009

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

“The Next phase’ is an ironic entry in the fifth season. It was intended to bea budget saving bottle show--a highly necessary one, considering other episode had gone over budget--but wound up being one of the most expensive of the series because of the phasing special effect used throughout. Like most bottle episodes, it is just sort of there. It has a neat hook, but otherwise, there is nothing remarkable about it.

The Enterprise is called to assist a crippled Romulan vessel. One assumes bygones are bygones over the whole brainwashing la Forge to be an assassin, attempting to overthrow the Klingon Empire, and the aborted invasion of Vulcan. The Federation is chock full of forgiving souls, no? la Forge and Ro beam from the Romulan ship to the Enterprise, but their patterns are lost due to some romulan doohickey. They are presumed dead.

They presume themselves dead for a while there, too, as they cavort about as corporeal beings like Nicolas cage and Andre Brauer in City of Angels. Ro in particular cotemplates her people’s religious beliefs about life after death. She had previously held such “superstitions” in contempt. The two battle dastardly Romulans as they figure out away to convince data theyare still alive. They succeed and data arrages some other thingamabob to under what the first thingamjiggy did and recover the two.

I hope I am not getting too technical here. Much of this episode previews some of the worst pseudoscience terminology, effects, and solutions of VOY. That ain’t a good thing.

I do not dislike “The Next Phase.” It just brings bac memories of being taught by some of the more paranoid elements of Bob Jones University fundamentalists that demons andangels are constantly battling one another around us on somespirtual plane we as natural, sinful people cannot see. Talk about spooking a little kid out, no?

It is true I am no fan of Ro, either. While she does appear to be a fan favorite, I think her character was annoying undeveloped. She is completely unsympathetic because she causes friction just to be doing it. Even here, the crew missed la forge, but gave nary a thought to her. When I think she almost became the Bajoran lead on DS9, thereby removing the possibility of the miles better Nana visitor as Kira Nerys, I cringe and thank the heavens Michelle Forbes thought a career in straight to video b-movies was a better idea than sticking with Trek.

Your mileage may vary with it, but I cannot see how one could find anything to elevate “The Next Phase” beyond run of the mill.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "I, Borg"

It has been a long string of mediocre episodes. Thank goodness we finally get to one. While I enjoy “I, Borg” for the most part, my fondness for it has diminished because of subsequent Trek, notably Star Trek: First: Contact. Many fans do not appear to pay much attention to the fact events in “I, Borg” and the “Descent” two part episode which serves as the Borg’s final televised appearances for TNG are ignored. I am glad they are, mind you. First Contact is my favorite of all the trek movies because it recaptures the ominous, unstoppable dread of a Borg invasion not felt since “Best of Both Worlds” with the personal wounds of Picard. Keeping “I, Borg” in honest continuity would have ruined it.

There is an inherent problem with using the Borg repeatedly as will eventually be demonstrated by VOY; if they are an unstoppable menace, how come our heroes are constantly able to stop them? It is doubly difficult because the Borg were presented as a force of nature, perpetually devouring every civilization in its path. There is not much room for variation there. These guys area tsunami. Or at least they were. Half the Delta Quadrant had never heard of them while the other half lived in mortal terror. But that is one of many, many gripes about VOY with no place here. The point is their return has to involve a unique twist to preserve their menace. In that regard, “I, Borg” succeeds.

The Enterprise encounters a downed Borg scout ship with one survivor who is cut off from the Collective. They take it on board the ship to study, hoping to find some effective way of fighting the Borg. A contrast develops between Picard and La Forge as the Borg is nursed back to health and studied. Picard still suffers from the emotional scars of his assimilation. He initially has no problem searching for a way to wipe them out. La Forge, always one to enter doomed relationships, befriends the Borg and names it Hugh.

As Hugh reasserts his individuality, it becomes more difficult to consider using him as a weapon, even when they develop a way to interject a virus into the Collective which would theoretically stymie them. Picard eventually heeds la forge’s advice, meets with Hugh, and decides he is a person--homesick, no less--who ought to be released. So that is what they do. It is this personal conflict that made the episode enjoyable back then. Viewing the situation in hindsight, Picard made a truly bad moral decision.

Before getting existential, let us talk about this in practical terms. Picard was assimilated, which is most certainly the most traumatic experience of his life. No one at Starfleet knows what kind of long term effects assimilation has, but they do know while assimilated, Picard was intent on invading Earth and killed 11,000 people in the process. Even though he was allowed back into command with no apparent strings attached, Starfleet brass has to be wary. So when he finds a Borg and opts to nurse it back to health and let it go rather than hand it over to Starfleet for study or even notify them of it , why does no admiral jerk him back as a potential traitor? He does eventually get scolded, but is a full season later. Too little too late.

On a related note, I am going to concede Hugh is like one of those babies born in an incubator from “Q Who?” rather than someone assimilated into the collective like Picard since he had no sense of self to assert. Conceding the point rationalizes why there was no effort to remove Hugh’s implants as was a priority for Picard. They would not have been freeing a prisoner of cybernetic implants but mutilating a Borg. Such would have been an immoral act.

But introducing an element through Hugh that would have destroyed the Borg is not an immoral act at all. I think Picard made the wrong decision. Yes, he would have been committing genocide, but by his inaction, he has allowed a bigger genocide to continue as the Borg continue to assimilate other species. The act could have been justified by a simple question--would the outcome have be better if the Borg win/ The answer is obviously no. it is the same train of thought justifying the firebombing of Dresden or dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagazsaki. All three are arguably immotal acts, but it would have been more immoral to allow the Nazis and Japanese to continue their atrocities.

It would have been more interesting a had that been the moral conflict. Instead, the conflict was moot. Hugh was not an individual prior to his capture. He was an individual for only a short time in which it seemed cruel to use him, but he is destinedti lose that individuality as far as anyone knows, so the condition on which picard made his decision was temporary. You cannot make lasting decisions based on temporary circumstances. There isa big picture involved. Picard blew it.

But I can only knock off onestar for that. It is exciting tosee the Borg again. There was more potential in the story than we got ot of it, but it is still one of the best episodes of the series if for no other reason than the subsequent borg appearance falls even further short. I have to take what I can get, you know?

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Imaginary Friend"

I tried to sit through this one again for a full review, but I just could not. ‘Imaginary Friend” is further proof trek does not do children well. It is a double disappointment because the idea of a child’s imaginary friend coming to life in a nightmarish way has uch potential. But the execution here is very poor. Writer Brannon Braga demonstrates why VOY and ENT will besuch mediocre efforts when he becomes responsible for their story directions.

The plot is a terribly contrived mess of elements of some of the worst TOS and TNG episodes. We have a troubled, lonely kid with an overactive imagination who causes trouble for the crew. I just more or less described “Charlie X,” “And the Children Shall Lead,” “The Bonding” “Hero Worship,” and now “Imaginary Friend.” too many of those episode I just listed have the specific plot of children becoming involved with malevolent aliens, so there is truly nothing new here.

I suggest skipping this one. You will not be missing anything, particularly if you have watched much trek in the past. If so it will not be difficult to figure out everything that happens anyway.

Rating; * (out of 5)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "The Perfect Mate"

This makes two episodes in a row featuring an ill advised wedding. It is definitely odd the installments were not spaced apart more wisely. “The Perfect Mate“ is not that great an episode, but I give it higher marks than I normally would because of its unintentional hilarity.

I am not talking about the laughable idea some hot little number played by Famke Janssen would go for a guy like Picard. I wasted all my amusement at the similar absurdity of of someone who looks like Ashley Judd not only having the hots for Wesley, but patient enough to lead him around because of his incompetence with women. It is actually because her actions here reveal about Picard the ex ladies man.

The Enterprise is escorting a delegation carrying a peace offering for a warring planet. Along the way, the crew is forced to rescue some Ferengi. Take heart, though. These Ferengi are more in line with the DS9 variety. Even though they are not there yet, they are more tolerable than the interpretive dancing toads they have been prior. Through their shenanigans, it is revealed the peace offering is a women set for a prearranged marriage.

Kamala is a genetically engineered empath who can sense whatever desires a man has and fulfill them completely. Think of her as an Orion slave girl with the same effect on men. Every male from riker on down to the Ferengi have trouble resisting her feminine charm. Every man that is except for Picard. His resistance attracts her to him instead.

To be honest, Picard does have a certain thing for her but he is able to cast it aside while all the other males have to get as far away from her as possible. So picard is just not that excited about women. Keep in mind what I wrote above. Kamala will fulfill every male fantasy, sexual or otherwise. Any guy who was set to spend the rest of his life with an attractive woman willing to do that would have her engaged in the most vile, hardcore adult movie action one could imagine. Even for one designed to do such things, her innate sense of free will has to make her repulsed at the prospect.

Along comes boring old Picard, who tells her he falls asleep every night with an old book in his hands. Surely that would bore her to tears? But considering she is facing a lifetime of waking up staring at a shirtless, chaps wearing midget dangling from the chandelier with a bullwhip coiled in his teeth when her husband walks in carrying whipped cream and a set of jumper cables, life with Picard sounds pretty good.

It is kid of pitiful, when you think about it. A woman would have to be incredibly unique to find a man like Picard exciting. I cannot even begin to picture woman who would thrill him. Some middle aged, childless spinster too ornery for anyone else, but devoted to Picard enough to satisfy his boring whims while knowing when to stay the heck out of his way, which, one assumes, is virtually every minute of his life. Seemingly, kamala can do that, but alas, it cannot happen. Picard laments what might have been ever so subtly, but I still think hereally does not care.

Tim O’Connor starred as Kamala’s escort. You may remember him as Dr. Huer from the campy Buck Rogers in the 25th Century back in the ’70’s. I remember being surprised to see him. He and David Soul are among a handful of actors I am perpetually surprised to find are still alive. Call me crazy if you must.

“The Perfect Mate” is not that great an episode, but it is amusing for what it says about Picard. somewhere down the line, he developed severe gynophobia. Perhaps it was because Jack Crusher’s death left him open t pursue Beverly, but his conscience would not let him. I do not know, but whatever his problem is, it is not normal.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Cost of Living"

Oh, man. I had to suffer through Wesley yesterday, now I have to sit through Lwaxana and Alexander in the same episode. Who had the bright idea of putting two of the most useless, annoying in TNG together in one episode? We are talking Freddy Krueger level sadism here for the audience.

It is much worse when we actually get into the plot. Worf and Alexander are having problems because they have no respect for one another. I do not blame Alexander for not respecting his father. Worf dumped him on earth with two strange people he had never met before right after his mother died. When that did not work out, he decided to boot the kid to a boarding school in the Klingon Empire, thereby dooming the littlies to a perpetual wedgie

The kid has no grounding. It is not too surprising that he takes a shine to Lwaxana and her carefree lifestyle when she decides to use the Enterprise jas host for her latest wedding. When a child has no sense of character instilled in him, hefills the void with irresponsible hedonism.

That is most of the episode, by the way. Lwaxana and Alexander goof around in the holodeck in mud baths and the like, shirking all responsibilities they both have. Worf, troi, and Lwaxana’s hubby to be are all angry, but it matters naught.

The wedding is called off when Lwaxana walks down the aisle naked in front of everyone, including Alexander. Talk about scarring the kid for life.

In the end, all parties agree to have a mud bath. Yes, a mud bath. Somehow this settles all outstanding issues, but I am at a lossas to how. Lwaxana’s impending marriage is over, Alexander still has no respect for Worf, and they are not only still indulging in hedonistic behavior, they have convinced Troi and Worf to join in. There is your moral, folks. Screw your personal conflicts, responsibilities, and other assorted bric a brac. Just goof off.

There is a side story about a parasite that nearly destroys the Enterprise, but no one seemed to care, so why should I?

Rating; * (out of 5)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

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

What? Another Wesley episode? But I just suffered through “The Game” a week ago! Have I not suffered enough?

Apparently not, since here is another Wesley episode. Truth be told, it is the best of the installments focused on the annoying little twerp, but that is like saying your third kidney stone was the best since you passed that one naturally instead of having surgery. A lot of fans consider this one of the best episodes. Not me, but I have a difficult time overcoming my Wesley hate.

The wunderkind and several of his friends have an accident during a training exercise when they pull some maneuver they were advised not to do. Wesley is turn between loyalty to his friends and his duty to Starfleet. The idea of loyalty to duty wins out, so he eventually spills the beans.

Call me crazy, but I think it would have been much better if he had remained silent to protect his friends. It would have given him an edge that he sorely lacks. Instead, he goes right back to being the straight laced, nerdy goody two shoes he has always been. There is no character growth for him at all here.

Some side issues taint the episode for me, too. There is a replica of the original Enterprise on Wesley’s desk that is actually a pewter collectible that was available at the time. A little blatant product placement there. Normally, that would not bother meat all, but TNG has obnoxiously promoted a socialist utopia from the first season on. Hypocrisy gets me way more than commercialism.

Secondly, there is the character of Locano. He is played by Robert Duncan O’Neill, who will eventually go on to play Tom Paris in VOY. The original plan was for O’Neill to reprise his role for VOY, but it was determined they would have to pay royalties to the writer of “The First Duty” for every episode he would be in, so the idea was nixed as cost prohibitive. I guess they did not project to sell enough pewter Enterprises to cover overhead.

One good point is the character of Sito Jaxxa she will return in “Lower Decks,” one of my favorite episodes. So there is at least one selling point. There are not may others. Continuity buffs may enjoy seeing Starfleet Academy or meeting Boothby for the first time. The thrill is not enough for me. It is a decent episode, but does not deserve the lofty status it has been awarded.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Cause and Effect"

I am a sucker for unique twists on time travel stories. “Cause and Effect” is one of the best around because it overcomes what ought to be a deal breaker; the same sequence of events is repeated five times, virtually identical to one another, yet the plot holds your attention anyway. Credit director Jonathan Frakes for varying the camera angle and perspective in each sequence in order to make each one different enough so it is visually interesting, yet familiar enough we understand the cycle is repeating.

The Enterprise is caught in a disaster which causes the ship to explode and create a causal loop so the sequence of events occurs repeatedly. Each time, the ship ends up destroyed because the crew opts to ignore a course of action by Riker. Is the loops continue, the crew pieces together clues about what is happening. They come up with a plan to program Data to come up with sequences of threes in each loop as a hint--Riker wears three command pips--his recommendation should be followed.

The plan eventually works the disaster, a collision with another ship, is finally avoided. The ship has been caught in a similar loop for ninety years or between Star Trek: The motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, if you perfer to think in geek terms. The Enterprise was fortunately trapped for only seventeen days.

As you can see above, the captain of the other ship was played by Kelsey Grammer. It is not Sean Connery showing up as King Richard the lionhearted in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves by a long shot,but it was cool nevertheless. there was a plan for Kirstey Alley to play Saavik, her character from Wrath of Khan, but it was not to be. Regardless, Grammer’s appearance was another in a long line of connections between trek and Cheers In addition to alley’s appearance, BeBe Neuwirth has been a guest star, morn from DS9 was an homage to Norm Peterson, Woodt Boy’ds middle name was Tiberius just like kirk’s, and Kate Mulgrew once played an old flame of Sam Malone’s. if you want to get really pedantic, Christopher Lloyd once played an weirdo artist in an early episode after playing a Klingon in Star Trek III; The Search for Spock. That is probably way more than you ever wanted to know.

This review does not do ‘Cause and Effect” justice. Like Bill Murray’s Groundhog Day, it sounds like a boring concept, but it is executed in an entertaining fashion. You would not think seeing the same sequence of events occur five times could hold your attention, but it does. Very well.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

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

“The Outcast” is the first Trek episode to deal with, at least arguably, the issue of homosexuality. Truth be told, it does not do that very well. Homosexual advocacy groups have criticized the episode for washing its hands of the issue after Gene Roddenberry had allegedly promised to present a conspicuously gay character on TNG.

There is some ambiguity as to the truth of Roddenerry’s claim. Check out this article is you are interested in an AIDs themed story from a homosexual perspective written by David Gerrold which was nixed by Rick Berman as being too controversial for the studio to approve. The abandoning of the script allegedly lead to Roddenberry promising The Advocate a homosexual character would be added to the show.

Recall Roddenberry has in the past claimed a more enlightened attitude than he actually put into practice. Cherkov was not added to the cast of TOS in order to show peace could be made with the Russians but because Davy Jones was really popular on the Monkees. Uhura was little more than a telephone operator throughout the Tos while suffering some incredible indignities, up to and including dancing naked for aliens as late as 1989. So no one knows what Roddenberry’s intentions actually were, but the general consensus is he knew berman was going to insist the studio would not allow it, but he could push for the lost cause and look good doing it while making Berman the bad guy.

Roddenberry died before anything could happen. Berman greenlit “The Outcast’ as away of somewhat addressing the issue while being able to wash their hands of it. In some quarters, Berman has been accused of homophobia over the situation. I am cautious to impugn him. Subsequent Trek for which Berman has been associated has lightly danced around the issue. Dax kissed an ex-lover in DS9, but said lover was only a female at the time. She was male during their initial relationship. Some see closeted homosexual behavior in Harry Kim, but more just consider it poor handling of the character. Hawk was rumored to be gay in Star Trek: First Contact, but it is not obvious to anyoner watching. ENT drewa parallel between mind melding and homosexual acts which wound up angering more fans than anything else. But still, Berman never ignored homosexuality entirely. I think he has been scapegoat by the bean countersat paramount.


But that is all extraneous. What is relevant is “The Outcast” with all its weaknesses. The Enterprise comes to the aid of a genderless alien race known as the J’Naii. Riker falls for Soren, a J’Naii who has decided she wants to be female. The desire isconsideredan illness by her people, so she is arrested and sentenced to psychological treatment which will change her mind. Riker opts to rescue her with the help of Worf, but they are too late. Soren has already been altered by the time they get to her. Riker has to go back along his merry way without her.

I see three problems with the execution of the moral message. First, the J’Naii are all played by women. It immediately brings forth the notion they are all lesbians. Therefore Riker is trying to turn a lesbian straight. Never mind that he approaches Troi to find out if she would be all right with him starting a relationship with Soren, as though he has been dragging her along as a ready bedmate should he come short some night. How lecherous can you get? Secondly, Worf--the alien, naturally--expresses prejudice at one point to the J’naii’s lack of proper gender roles. Okay, but considering Soren wants to become a woman, the plot is siding with Worf’s supposedly backwards attitude genders out to be separate. So why demonize Worf? Finally, androgynous, lesbian, or straight, Soren is still a woman. The audience has to struggle to find any sense of forbidden love in their relationship. There is nothing here that overtly hints at homosexual allegory unless you squint your eyes and wish really hard.

I cannot blame homosexual groups for their lukewarm attitude about the episode. It is such an obtuse plot that one could easily consider the moral of the story to be human rightsand freedom of choice in general. By all appearances, homosexual advocacy groups and Roddenberry (giving him benefit of the doubt) wanted a character for whom sexual orientation was a matter of fact. Instead, there was the cynical tale of poor Soren who wanted to do er own thing, but was reprogrammed to be normal. The episode turns out to be atypical progressive grievance narrative in which someone is constantly abused for identity politics serving as her sole reason for being. The problem with that is that everyone wants to consider race, gender, and sexual orientation a matter of fact. It is when they are constantly made a political issue of they become perpetually divisive.

If you want to view “The Outcast" isa parable on the human’s right of self-determination, which is less of a stretch than homosexual allegory, it isstill a mediocre, but watchable episode. If you are hoping for a positive view of homosexuality, sorry. It is not here.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Ethics"

Here is a unique moment; a medical miracle saving the life of a main cast member is performed by a guest star rather than McCoy or Crusher. She gets berated for it, of course. The guest star cannot completely show up the big dogs. There has to me some flaw in what she has done. The flaw is rather flimsily manufactured, but it is there nonetheless.

Worf has an accident in a cargo bay when he is struck by a falling canister. He shatters several vertebrae, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. As far as he is concerned, he is dead and requests Riker, his warrior comrade, to assist him in ritual suicide so he can still die with honor.

You might think this is the mai ethical conflict implied by the episode title, but it is not. In fact, riker is the only one who has any compunctions about performing the ritual which would involve handing Worf a knife so he can stab himself in the heart. Picard, apparently possessing a newfound sympathy for Klingon ways since serving as Arbiter of succession, urges Riker to go through with it.

If you are keeping score at home, Starfleet regulations will not allow Ro wear her culturally significant earring, but they do allow one senior officer help another kill himself in a culturally significant ritual. Which begs the question--what if worf had to wear a piece of jewelry during the suicide ritual? I am guessing he could still kill himself. He just would not be going out in style.

Riker finds a loophole that would put the duty of handing Worf the knife to his son, Alexander. Well, Worf is royally screwed. That little wuss probably wets his pants at the sight of nail clippers. I do not really know how much of a factor Alexander’s involvement is--he did not want he kid to see him in his paralyzed state anyway- but worf decides to tryan experimental surgery to grow a new spine instead.

This is the main ethical issue, much weaker than the one Riker faced. The Enterprise has a Dr. Russell visiting. She is presented as being extraordinarily brazen in performing experimental procedures on living patients. Crusher revlieves her of duty after she tries one of her risky treatments on a terminal patient. Russell is not presented as a Mengele type here, but it is made clear what she is doing is unethical. It is debatable. Somebody has to be first to be treated by new medical procedures.

For what it is worth, I learned in law school there is enough acceptance of risk in pursuing an experimental medical procedure that a medical malpractice lawsuit is nearly impossible to win if something goes wrong. If Russell has express consent, she is pretty well within her rights to perform the procedure. Granted, it is not a hard and fast rule. Juries can be dumb-dumbs at times and award millions for situations they do not understand. But here she clearly has Worf’s consent to perform surgery There are no ethic issues here.

The drama occurs when Worf appears to not survive, but his Klingon redundancies enable him to recover anyway. Both he and Russell are thrilled. Crusher scolds her for good measure. Worf is alive only because he is lucky. She seems to forget how much luck plays apart in just about everything. Oh, well. The guest star cannot be the total hero. It is against the Trek rules.

“Ethics” is not a bad episode, but it is one in which my perspective has changed over time. I used to agree with crusher about Russell’s supposedly reckless behavior. Nowadays, whether it is because of the law degree or desperate health issues, I think her character has been wrongly sullied. Not only are there many patients who would be willing to go along with her work, there are rules allowing them to do so.

Rating: ** *(out of 5)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Power Play"

Five writers are credited on the script for “Power Play,” including the dreaded Maurice Hurley. His inclusion implies the story had been bouncing around the TNG office since at least the second season. It neither inspires confidence the concept was from that less than stellar era, nor that five writers had to take a crack at it--too many cooks spoil the stew--but it actually turns out to be a decent episode.

It appears at first glance to bea ghost story. Fair enough. We have not had one of those since TOS. The Enterprise is searching an uninhabited moon upon which they receive a weak distress signal from the Essex, a ship that has been missing for two centuries. The away team is stranded on the moon because of an electromagnetic storm. The storm knocks them unconscious before they can be rescued. Unbeknownst to anyone, Troi, Data, and O’Brien had those claiming to be the spirits of the long dead Essex crew inhabit them.

The plot turns to a brutal hostage situation in ten Forward as they demand the ship rescue others trapped in the polar region. Turns out, the moon is a penal colony upon which condemned prisoners are released to spend eternity as disembodied energy. Through some techno babble solution, the, the hostage situation ends, Troi, Data, and O’Brien are freed, and the moon is declared off limits.

The big reveal isa bit of a letdown. It would have been much more chilling had the original theory that somehow the Essex crew had become disembodied and had gone homicidally insane over the centuries would have had a more powerful emotional puch than making them criminally insane inmates all along. In the former, there would have been sympathy. It would be disturbing to think they did not deserve such a fate. It is not so much with the latter. They are suffering a cruel fate, no doubt, but they probably deserve it considering their actions.

Marina Sirtis and Brent Spiner appear to relish the chance to play psychopaths. Sirtis still does not do it for me here, but Spiner is such a great character actor, he flows seamlessly from the good natured Data to the complete loon inhabiting his body. Colm Meaney finally getsa shot at the spotlight, too. It shows why he earned the chance to move to a more prominent role on DS9.

Other than what I considered a cop out to have the villains be psychotic the whole time rather than good people turned bad by unimaginably horrible circumstances, the episode turned out well. I would not call it a top tier installment. Too many elements are being recycled for that. But it is an enjoyable episode to watch.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Conundrum"

I have never particularly liked this episode even though it is similar to alternate reality stories which I generally dig. Many fans go for it because the episode reveals a lot of background information about the characters. Okay, but it is laid out there as exposition. It is not like meeting family members or friends from the past or even meaningful flashbacks as other, better episodes have done. What is more, the plot of wiping memories in order to utilize characters for some task has subsequently been done better in--wait for it--the VOY two part episode ’Workforce.”

You will not read much praise for VOY here, so savor it when you can.

The Enterprise is scanned by a mysterious ship. The memories of their identities are wiped clean, but they retain the ability to perform their duties. A new crewmember named MacDuff has replaced Riker as first officer. He subtly guides the confused crew into their mission, which is to destroy a Lysian command center under direct orders from Starfleet. Conveniently, they are to maintain radio silence for the duration

As the Enterprise encounters Lysian resistance, it becomes apparent the Federation could not be at war with such a technologically inferior race. with the jig up, they learn their memories were wiped by an en enemy of the Lysians who wanted the Federation to do their dirty work for them. Interestingly enough, there are no lasting consequences of the Enterprise having killed a number of Lysians before discovering the truth.

Some character moments in “Conundrum” are just too awkward to be appreciated. Worf’s bruised ego at not being in charge diminishes the character because, in normal circumstances, he has not done much prove he can run a lemonade stand, much less a starship. Does he truly believe he can? Data as a bartender is not so bad, but Riker and Ro, two characters who hate each other, having sex is an awful idea. There is a thin line between love and hate and without the baggage of memories, there are no barriers to such things if you d not wish them to be, but what was the point other than tantalize the fourteen year old boys with Michelle Forbes nearly naked and the play up the more lecherous aspects of Riker?

Riker’s romantic inclinations have been a problem for quite awhile now. From eying Vash up and down like a sexual predator in “Qpid” to being duped into bringing that brainwashing game on board by a alien woman with a butt on her head in “The Game“, Riker has done most of his thinking with his little first officer for the better part of a season and a half. Recall he urged Data to indulge his romantic urges for a vulnerable woman on the rebound in “In Theory.“ I am not convinced he was not upset about losing a young woman in “Silicon Avatar” because she was attractive. Now this tryst with Ro.

Riker wins some redemption with “The Outcast” a few episodes don the line, but there has been a long stretch of low points getting here.

“Conundrum’ might have been better if we were not in on the truth from the beginning. What we are doing is watching the crew flounder about aimlessly, getting into situations like having sex with people they do not really know, played for laughs amid drama that has no consequence. If the Lysians are not going to press the issue of their ships being destroyed, are they really going to push the federation for their command center biting the dust? We do not care about a war between two races we have never heard of before, so what is the tension for us/ Not much, nearas I can tell.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "The Masterpiece Society"

I hate this episode. If I have watched it beyond its initial airing, I would be surprised to learn it. Anytime eugenics is dealt with in any sort of positive light, I get a squeamish feeling. Here it all hinges on one exchange between la Forge and a scientist with show runner and final draft writer Michael Piller’s comments in a making of book that kill it for me.

“The Masterpiece Society” is based on another script that had been bouncing around the TNG office. The plot centers around a genetically engineered “perfect” society which does not want the ’inferior’ Enterprise crew among them, even when the crew is trying to save the colony from being damaged by space debris. Virtually every writer on staff at the time has described their aversion to working on the script and have since expressed disappointment with the outcome in various interviews. All of them, save Piller.

Here is the problem: at one point, La Forge is talking to one of the genetically engineered scientists. He asks if he would have been allowed to live with his disability. She tells him no. The founders of the colony deemed that everyone should live without any physical deformities. La forge replies that the founders have no business deciding whether his life is worth living. She has no answer.

This exchange raised some hackles because it came across as a pro-life argument. Piller piped up in the press and denied the accusation. Everyone on staff is solidly pro-choice, according to him. I do not doubt it--or at least I did not until Ronald D. Moore presented a brutally honest abortion storyline on Battlestar Galactica in which the pro-lifer advocates were heroic even to the point they were about to use violence to prevent the non-consensual abortion. Bt what ’the masterpiece society” did was inadvertently expose the ugliness of abortion, then swept the matter under the rug when it realized that had been done.

“It is okay to abort a cripple. La Forge? Well, yeah, we like him and he is valuable, but we do not really need another cripple, do we?”

Therein lies the heart of what is wrong with the episode. The overall message is supposed to be that eugenics is a bad thing. Piller tries his darnedest to get to that point,, but he stupidly failsandwinds up advocating creating a utopian society through exterminating the so called unfit to live instead.

That is all abortion is. Ruth Bader Ginsburg admitted in an interview a few months ago the rationale behind the Roe decision was to limit the minority population. When liberals accuse others of racism, they are projecting what in their vile social engineering hearts. You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Sacrifices have to be made for utopia.

Such a rationale hits me twice. First of all, I was born with disabilities, yet have gone on to a full productive life. Granted, I hit the wall a few yearsago, but with health issues unrelated to my physical disabilities. There is not one valid reason I should have missed out on what was a fulfilling life because of a major setback 27 years after I was born. I do not like people who take it upon themselves to make that decision for others. I have an extremely difficult time with the concept of wrongful life--the idea it would be better if a child who will be disabled or grindingly impoverished or the product of rape should be aborted over speculation his life will have no value.

Second, I studied lot of political philosophy in college. One of the things that most made me regret studying political science was the realization that every ideology had utopia as its ultimate goal and every path to utopia ends in tragedy. It does not matter if it is something as evil as Hitler’s vision of Aryans ruling over “lesser” races or something as na├»ve as Jimmy Carter’s pacifist utopianism which continually allows brutal regimes to oppress and murder. There is no good end to any political idea carried out to its fullest conclusion.

Piller manages both social engineering through abortion and its ensuing utopia with only whispers as to the folly of creating a genetically perfect society. I am going to givew him the benefit of the doubt by chalking it up to incompetence rather than evil. Talk about killing with faint praise.

There is a side story with Troi falling in love with an ubermensch, but who cares?

Rating: * (out of 5)

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation--"Violations"

“Violations’ was borne out of the story outline for “Night Terrors,’ one of the worst Tng episodes ever. Like ’Night Terrors,” the story center around my least favorite character, Troi, so the episode does not have much going for it.

It is a shame, because its intentions are good. A rash of violent hallucinations coincides with a visiting group of psychic researchers. These hallucinations area form are allegorical to rape in that they are forced on a victim for the thrill of empowering the culprit. At first, the hallucinations are pinned on the oldest researcher, but troi discovers it was actually another. He is brought to justice for his crime.

I can appreciate the way writer Jeri Taylor handled the plot. I am not a woman, so I have never lived under the fear of being sexually assaulted. (Acknowledging, but not addressing, there issue a thing as male rape. I am just trying to keep it simple here.) I cannot empathize with the violation a rape victim must feel. Sympathize, yes, but I cannot honestly see the violation through her eyes. Taylor tried to relate the feelings here the best she could. I will give her kudos for that.

The problem here is the almost non-existent distinction between Troi’s empathic abilities, which she freely uses without permission of others to read their true feelings, and the the notion of making other relive bad memories for jollies. Either way, it is an intrusion on something very personal. I am not dark enough to say troi deserved to be mind raped after using her abilities for so long. There is a difference between an invasion of privacy and a brutal assault. Troi has been reading your diary. Jev, her rapist, is causing pain for joy. They are miles apart in severity, but still both violations.

In a rare event for trek, the memory of the rape will stick with troi. It will never be addressed again. In fact, Troi will be similarly assaulted in Star Trek: Nemesis. But usually there is a built in reset button to restore the status quo. Not so here. I appreciate the issue was left open to further develop trio’s character down the road. It did not, but Taylor left the door open.

To end on a upbeat note, Picard was wearing a hairpiece in his flashback to leading Crusher to see her husband’s dead body made him look laughably much like my late Sen. Strom Thurmond:No word on what Trent Lott thinks about the resemblance.

Rating: ** out of 5)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Hero Worship"

Remember our mantra that trek never does children well? Yesterday’s episode was a step in the right direction. Alexander was and will continue to bea brat, but the emphasis was more on Worf’s growth as a parent. His failures as a father offer explanation for Alexander’s emotional problems. But in “Hero Worship,” we go back to the old standby--a kid has been orphaned and the crew has no idea how to handle it

Come to think of it, kids becoming orphans are abandoned by their parents altogether is a common running theme from Charlie X, Kirk’s nephew, the kids from “And the Children Shall Lead,” Jeremy from “The Bonding,” Worf, technically Data, and Riker being left by his father at fifteen. I really should have mentioned Jeremy yesterday as an added irony to Worf’s behavior. He added Jeremy to his house after he was orphaned, so he seems to think more of him than his own son. I shall not go so far as to say he has fully embraced Gene Roddenberry’s notion of human superiority over aliens. Heh.

Call me cold hearted here, but I would be more sympathetic to poor, orphaned Timothy if it was not so obvious he is lying from the get go. He claims his ship was invaded and everyone but him was killed by aliens in helmets. There is no evidence whatsoever of weapons discharge which is always mentioned when such tragedies are being investigated. Obviously, there was no invasion, yet the crew takes it seriously right on up until the climax.

When timothy takes a shine to Data, particularly his lack of emotion, Data is advised to play along with Timothy’s imitation of him. Not because they want to get the truth out of him, but as a psychological tool in his grieving process. It is not until the Enterprise is about to suffer the same cosmic wave thingy that destroyed timothy’s ship he admits what happens and learns his accidentally bumping a panel did not cause everyone to die. He is the catalyst for saving the Enterprise, so his psyche gets a boost.

I sun negative here, but “Hero Worship” is not a horrible episode. It is just illogical. I am curious how encouraging timothy to suppress his emotions over his parents’ deaths is a good idea. I am not a psychologist, but are they not encouraging him to bottle up his pain so it explodes in some incredibly unhealthy way down the line? He already has a couple temper tantrums in the episode. It is only going to get worse. “Hero worship’ also calls into question the logic of allowing children on starships in deep space. Why does no one ever question that when, say, the Borg are about to assimilate the ship/ how many kids died at Wolf 359? One wonders.

Rating: **(out of 5)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

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

I have always liked Worf. He was never really done justice until his run on DS9. As far as Tng is concerned, Worf has two purposes. One, to destroy things he does not understand and two, learn from humans how to purge his inferior Klingon culture. The show thankfully shifted away from the former as time went on and worf no longer felt the need to do things like point his phaser at a view screen upon which q appears like in the pilot. The latter carried on right until the end with this episode serving as the beginning of a key aspect.

Worf’s son Alexander comes to live with him in wacky sitcom style. When you examine the situation closely, it is quite sad. Alexander’s mother died, so he was stuck with a father he never knew. Worf then dumps the kid on earth with his parents. So Alexander is all but completely orphaned, living on a strange planet with people who do not understand him. It is the same boat Worf used to be in, yet he has no empathy for his son. Or sympathy for his parents, either, since he unceremoniously dumps the kid on them.

Bear in mind Alexander is illegitimate, conceived in the heat of angry passion between Worf and K’Ehlyr. Worf is being a deadbeat dad all around. You get that impression further when Helena comes to visit with Alexander in tow and he announces he is not going back with her.

She explains she and her husband are getting on in years. They cannot give Alexander the care he needs. This may be true. Helena appears to be in her sixties. Considering the extended lifetimes people in the 24th century have, she is relatively middle aged. As I doubt she is trying to dump Alexander on Worf so she had her hubby can buy a Winnebago and head off to Vegas or whatever the Russian equivalent would be, she is probably trying to guilt worf into accepting responsibility that ought to be his in the first place.

If that is her goal, it takes a while to sink into those thick ridges of Worf’s. He refuses to take Alexander at first, then opts to send him off to Klingon school. What adumb idea, too. The kid is a wuss. his classmates would eat him alive. Mayve literally. At this point, Worf looks like a royal jerk.

It is not until the side story of an experimental way of travel coincides with the family issue that Worf changes his mind about Alexander. The boy is caught in a fire caused by the test run and has to be rescued by Worf and Riker. It is only afterward Worf realizes an emotional connection with his son. Better late than never.

This is nota bad episode, but I never cared much for the Worf/Alexander dynamic. I am still of the mindset Worf and K’Ehlyr would have made a better lasting pair with the cultural differences causing friction between them. Instead, we get Worf, who is trying to embrace Klingon ways he is not all that familiar with, struggling with Alexander, a whiny, sniveling little brat. It is not a highlight of the series.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

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

Consider “A Matter of Time” a chance to catch your breath after the most recent sequence of darker episodes. It is a fun, lighthearted episode best viewed without implications future Trek forced upon it. Yes, ENT ruined everything.

A man named Berlinghoff Rasmussen shows up claiming to be a historian from the 26th century sent to observe what will apparently be a memorable result of the Enterprise’s effort to save the damaged ecosystem of a colony hit by an asteroid. Rasmussen refuses to say what the result will be because of some time travel rules, but the ecosystem drama is a red herring for the skepticism of who and what Rasmussen really is.

Turns out he is from the past, not the future. His goal is to steal future technology just as he stole his time ship and slowly introduce the items as his own inventions. He is stopped. He he is stopped by data when he attempts to steal the android. Rasmussen is trapped in the 24th century when the time ship leaves without him. It seems like rather cruel fate fate for a thief, but there you go.

Like I said above, it isa fun, relatively inconsequential episode. Matt Frewer, Max headroom himself, plays Rasmussen with perfect eccentricity while slipping into sinister mode when necessary. The role was originally supposed to go to robin Williams, but he turned it down to play Peter pan in Hook. I have never heard whether Williams has expressed regret turning down a trek role for a dud movie like Eddie Murphy has for turning down the biologist role in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home to star in The Golden Child, but I suspect he has some.

I can only speculate what Williams’ Rasmussen would have been like. Williams has played a goofy professor in Flubber and a surprisingly psycho in One Hour Photo, so he might have elevated the episode. However, I like Frewer he is unfairly considered a gimmicky actor for his attachment to the Max Headroom mythos, but he is too good an actor in comedy and drama to dismiss so easily. Since I am the only one to remember how good the sitcom Doctor, Doctor was.

But I did say ’A Matter of Time” was best viewed without future Trek’s meddling. It is. A major plot pint is no one has ever heard of historians traveling through time to observe past events. In ENT, we learn there is such a thing and the 22nd century Earth Starfleet knows about them. The 22nd century is when Rasmussen is from. Worse yet, one of ENT’s cutesy ties to the rest of the trek franchise was to be that Archer and Rasmussen were roommates at MIT. Meh. Forget about suh things and just enjoy the episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

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

If ‘Unification I” went at a glacial pace, then “Unification II” travels at warp speed. It is jammed packed with exposition, action, and character moments. While it sounds like too much for a single episode, it all flows pretty well.

Spock begins the episode by laying out his intention to facilitate the reconciliation of the Romulans and the Vulcans through peaceful means. He went rogue so as to avoid causing what was the then unknown trouble behind Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. (In theaters this Chrisrmas! We hired Nicholas Meyer to direct! We did not let William Shatner anywhere near the director’s chair! No Vulcan mystics, either! Go see it!) Okay, it was more subtle than that, but not by much.

It is not that bad, but the opening verbal duel with Spock and Picard is the weakest of both episodes. They are just throwing out all of Spock’s plan in one lump in order to justify his being on Romulus before the action starts. Jeri Taylor even makes an effort to distract us with aquip from Spock that Picard is just as stubborn as Kirk was, thereby forcing the audience’s mind off the current plot into the Kirk v. Picard debate.

This is as good a place as any to weigh in on it myself. I am not so sure it is fair to compare Kirk and Picard’s stubbornness. They both indeed were, but in opposite directions. Kirk was stubborn in his sense of right and wrong. I have called him on it in a number of my TOS reviews because he has opted to destroy gods, computers, or various dictators maintaining the status quo of a given society because it did not suit his sense of justice to let it go.

Picard has been the exact opposite. He has often bent over backwards to compromise in situations you almost want to shake him hard to come to his senses. Take several of my most recent reviews. Picard has sacrificed a respected captain’s career while helping cover up that Cardassians were arming themselves near the federation border in “The Wounded” just to avoid further conflict. Not too long afterwards, the Cardassians destroy a Federation colony with impunity in “Ensign Ro.” Picard, against the better judgment of everyone, tries to communicate with the Crystalline Entity instead of destroying it even though it has killed thousands and will kill even more if not stopped.

I hate to drag up a French stereotype, but Picard is an appeaser at all costs while Kirk is a cowboy at all times. The value of their track record is debatable, but consider this: Spock was always the one advising Kirk not to interfere in the statuesque of societies such as the one controlled by Landru. By the 24th century, Spock has taken it upon himself to risk life and limb to change the paths of two major peoples because he has decided it is in the best interest of both. You can argue whether he is right, but it is hard to argue his attitude about such things has shifted from Picard’s to Kirk’s over time. A vindication? Perhaps.

See how easy it is to get sidetracked with that?

Anyway, spock, picard, and Data aresoon captured by Sela in her final appearance. She never got a good send off, which is too bad considered all the emotional issues that ought to have surrounded her character. I have yet to figure out if she was not popular or if Denise Crosby was not available to play the character further. Considering she returns for the series finale, produced the documentary Trekkies, and shows upat more conventions than tribbles, I suspect it was not a lack of willingness to participate.

Sela is behind a plot to use Spock’s movement to force an invasion of Vulcan. The plan is foiled due to Spock and data’s ingenuity combined with Riker’s extraordinarily good timing in unraveling his half of the mysterious plot. I am not doing it justice here, but we are talking about phasers and ship to ship fights here, not the usual preachy moralizing in order to avoid further conflict. “Cowboy diplomacy,” indeed.

Speaking of Riker, he demonstrates yet again how ready he is to be captain, yet he refuses to accept promotion. The writers have given off some clear hints in recent episodes to his rationale for turning down three command offers, but they are getting flimsier by the season. Riker was angry at Ro for her opinion that serving on the Enterprise is better than prison because he considers it a privilege. He has also defined what he meant by Picard needing him as first officer by nudging him strongly to destroy the Crystalline Entity instead of opening a dialogue. But it is still clear he is ready to work without a net. The character has to stay where he is, of course, but it is becoming laughably difficult to justify it.

All that notwithstanding, it is the character moments that make the episode. It is finally confirmed, unless you want to count an offhand quip by McCoy in the pilot, that Data is the Spock character of TNG. He is the perfectly logical emotionless Vulcan who longs to be human while Spock has to constantly battle his emotions to maintain proper Vulcan stoicism. When asked by data, he replies he has no regrets for his choice. Data tells him that is a human response. Of course, data’s desire to be human is an emotion, but who is counting?

The episode ends with Picard allowing Spock to meld with him in order to experience his father’s feelings towards him. It is a bittersweet moment to realize Pocard knowssarek better than his own son does.

“Unification II” is the better of the two parts. It sends the story into the top tier of TNG episodes. It did risk becoming rushed with so much stuff crammed into one episode, but I suspect that was because the powers that be wanted to end the first episode cliffhanger on the Spock revelation come hell or high water instead of the Romulan plot serving the role instead. It is awkward for the first episode of a two part story to have no hints of the real conflict, but it still works here. So I have no particular gripes.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, November 2, 2009

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

There have been surprisingly few homage to TOS thus far. Aside from some minor comments and place names dropped, the only two major ones I can think of are the inhibition disease from ’The Naked Time” affecting the Tng crew in “The Naked Now’ and Sarek’s return in “Sarek.” With all due apologies to William Shatner, who was once pegged to play the aged admiral in ’Too Short a Season,” you cannot have a bigger connection than to feature the return of Spock, even if his appearance was mostly to promote the upcoming Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Make no mistake, that is what “Unification I/II” are all about. Spock reveals his motivation for going rogue on Romulus as an ambiguous allusion to the plot of the movie without telling the audience anything specific about it. Spock does everything but look at the camera and say, “Coming soon to a theater near you.” I think it is funny, if not odd, but since The Undiscovered Coutry is my favorite movie featuring the TOS cast, I let it slide.

For the record, the plots due dovetail in retrospect. In the movie, Spock volunteers the Enterprise crew to make peace with the Klingons. A conspiracy involving rogue elements trying to force an interstellar war pins the assassination of the Klingon chancellor on kirk and McCoy, sending them off to a prison planet, and nearly destroying the potential peace. Spock surely does not want to risk anyone else suffering in his attempt to secure a lasting peace between Vulcan and Romulus.

Not that we get much of that here. The pacing is quite glacial, in fact. Picard and Data pose as Romulans while searching for Pardak, a friend of Spock’s who is likely helping him with his underground movement of promoting Vulcan philosophy among Romulans. The pay off is the final scene in which spock emerges. It is worth it, all things considered.

One thing I do have some misgivings about is Sarek’s death. His wild senility and mood swings are in their final stages when Picard comes to see him in order to get some idea why spock would have gone to Romulus. It is sad and painful to watch considering the reserved dignity with which Mark Lenard has played Sarek in the past. I am think specifically back to “Journey to Babel" where he faced death in a memorably stoic manner. Death in old age is rarely dignified, so I have to give kudos for realism. It is a shame we learn of Sarek’s death secondhand from the Klingons, however. It would have been an improvement had Picard been there for it considering the empathy he shares after the mind meld in “Sarek.” Picard likely understands better than anyone else at this point.

Most of the action takes place in part two it is best to wait until that write up to view thestory as a whole. Like “Best of Both worlds,’ one episode is much better than the other. So much so it carries the entire two parts.

On a final note, it is appropriate the episode solidly connecting TOS with TNG is dedicated to the memory of Gene Roddenberry. Much better this than, say "The Game," no?

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

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

May I now present ’The Game,” which shall forever be known as the worst episode of Tng and a portent of some of the dreck Brannon Braga would write through the rest of televised trek’s run. This episode was so bad, Gene Roddenberry died what the before it aired just to spare himself the agony.

What, too soon?

So what is the problem with “The Game” considering I have given so many poor ratings to early season episodes which would seem to be far worse? There are two points to be made there.

One, the earlier episodes were establishing the characters. Getting a feel for who these characters are over a period of a season or two is bound to make for some duds. Think about picard being such a jerk early on or how Riker was stiff and boring before becoming the swashbuckling ladies man or how la forge had nothing to do at all until moving off the bridge into engineering. Tasha Yar was an infinitely better character in her one appearance in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” than in twenty-some odd first season episodes. I can fault certain episode’s problems with the glacial pace of character growth Trek generally takes, but I do not think I can judge the entire series by them.

Second, many times it was the social commentary that made the early episodes bad. Until Roddenberry took a backseat to Michael Piller in the third season, there was nothing keeping him and his likeminded buddies, particularly Maurice Hurley, from indulging in some of the most absurd moralizing imaginable. Note there was an almost complete turnover of the writing staff from the second to third season. Tracy Torme used his pen name to disavow his last couple scripts and left disgruntled. David Gerrold, D. C. Fontana, and several others disappeared not only from TNG, but interacting with trek fandom altogether. They were soured on their experience, which tells me what emerged on screen was not the best it could be. So, again, I cannot judge those episodes against the whole series.

But now we are solidly in the fifth season. The characters are becoming iconic while the show’s voice has been firmly established. When something like “The Game” comes along in the middle of all that, it sticks out like a sore thumb. With that in mind, I think much of why I dislike ’The Game” comes from the shock of such absurdity interrupting what has been a solid run for a long while.

The problems start right off the bat. Riker is vacationing on Risa when he is seduced by an alien woman with a butt on her head. Literally:I know the man likes to chase tail, but come on. This woman, Etana Jol, introduces him to a game played on a headset. I have no problem assuming Riker would be willing to try a game, especially if he thinks it will get him laid. As the plot progresses, every crewmember except for Data plays the game. I am sorry, but I cannot see Picard or Worf playing under any circumstance. Nor can I see how la Forge plays at all Then again, it is glossed over how La Forge sees anything like writing or color, so it is best not to dwell. The point is everyone other than Riker is conveniently acting out of character and riker lecherous nature is rising to the point of self-parody. So there is my first problem.

The game itself is poorly done as well. The graphics would not pass muster on the 8-bit NES system that was popular at the time “The Game” aired. It looked like something Atari might have produced in 1982. Can I fault the episode for aging poorly in consideration of technology? I think in this case, I can. They have holodecks that perfectly recreate reality. Surely games can evolve a wee bit beyond Pong, particularly when it is supposed to have such an elaborate affect on the brain. It ought to be amazing in both form and function, yet it is not.

Correct me if you see something deeper in the story, but is the moral message not a critique of video game addiction? Not a critique on sex or violence in games, but playing games themselves? I was a pretty big NES guy back then. I recall there was a lot of concern about kids not getting enough exercise, doing poorly in school, and damaging their eyesight by playing too much. But that stuff blew over quickly as the alarmism parents always have with a youth culture they do not understand. Taking jabs then was silly in my estimation. It is even sillier eighteen years later.

Let us talk plot holes, shall we? Why does Picard say Wesley is going to be arriving by shuttlecraft when he is clearly seen beaming over from another starship? I understand continuity errors slip in from time to time, but I think they should be able to maintain consistency with what wassaid ten minutes prior. If the crewmembers brainwashed by the game need to get rid of Data, why not, you know, get rid of him as opposed to just deactivating him. Etana is trying to take over the federation. She should have taken every precaution. Considering data saves the day with flashing light--yes, flashing lights--he needed to have a little “accident” in order for her plan towork.

I suppose fans of zombie movies enjoy the climax where Wesley is cornered by the crew and forced to play the game. I am not all that fond of zombie flicks, so the homage does not give me an added kick. I do note Wesley blinks while being held fast, so he could still close his eyes and should therefore not have been affected by the game. But whatever. I do not careat this point.

Not even Ashley Judd in a tight uniform saves ‘The Game.” That is probably due to the implausibility of her falling for Wesley. She is way out of his league. Do note that is the first criticism I have had of Wesley in this review. I dislike the character immensely, but I will concede he has grown to be far less obnoxiously nerdy than in the past. Still having to suffer through him again is the dead fly on this pile of crap sundae.

So as to not end onsuch a sour note, here is one of my favorite songs from Ashley’s mother Naomi and sister Wynonna Judd:Rating: * (out of 5)