Thursday, December 31, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Attached"

I am not much of a ‘shipper period with it comes to TNG. Romantic relationships have generally been dealt with on such an immature level it is next to impossible to take many of them seriously. There is an added issue with Picard and Crusher. She has always had this semi-attachment to him even though he is responsible for her husband’s death. I have cut some slack about this in the past because there is a military tradition of adopting a fallen comrade’s family with which I am only vaguely familiar. Perhaps blossoming into romance from there is not that strange.

But it is strange for these two. I remain skeptical of Picard’s credentials as a ladies man even though he has loosened up in recent seasons. Chalk it up to Gene Roddenberry passing on. There was a desire way back in the first season’s “Arsenal of Freedom’ when he and Crusher were trapped together to hint at a previous relation. Roddenberry, lacking any desire for character development, nixed the idea.

As for Crusher, episodes centering around her and romance have so far been twisted at best. It will only get worse later on as she hooks up with a ghost. Previously, she has gone after Picard while suffering from the intoxication disease, fell in love with a Trill worm, and a wacky scientist. None of them have been glorious moments. Outside of “Suspicions,” there has been nothing of note for her period, much less in the romance department.

“Attached” is a chance to resolve all that awkwardness while giving the Picard/Crusher relationship a mature story to develop in. but it cannot quite pull off the task.

The two are kidnapped in mid-transport while heading to a planet divided into two factions warring with each other. One side wants to join the Federation. This is a neat idea never dealt with before. Every other federation world we have seen has been unified by a single planetary government. But the issue is not dealt with at all. The plot is only a backdrop to get picard and Crusher to be honest about their feelings about each other.

Of course, the only way they can do that is to have interrogation devices implanted in their brains by their captors so they can read each other’s thoughts. Because being willfully open about their feelings towards one another might lead to something real and meaningful. Forcing out deep secrets against their will is best way to go, of course.

Crusher discovers Picard’s love for her. He is quite frosty about it. Ultimately, I do not feel like anything advanced. Picard never seemed to have a special connection with her afterwards. Change some dialogue and Crusher could have been replaced by virtually anyone. Heck, that might have been more interesting.

Once the two are rescued, the government is denied membership in the federation until the planet is unified politically. No surprise there. In fact, it should have been an automatic disqualifier for membership consideration. I count that as a knock against the episode. There should have been a better effort to set up the exploration of the Picard/Crusher relationship than something so contrived. Neither story worked in the end. I cannot even say the paranoia of the warring governments has any new resonance post-9/11 even though--from a progressive standpoint, at any rate--it should be dead on.

“Attached” was Nick Sagan’s first script for TNG. Nick is, of course, theson of Carl Sagan. He will go on to write some better scripts for VOY ater this less than auspicious start. He will be more in his element there with science fiction concepts than the sociopolitical and romantic themes of “Attached.”

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Phantasms"

Earlier, I claimed there were three big problems with the seventh season of TNG: it was no longer the favorite sibling, there was too much wish fulfillment, for creators and actors and it was too existential. “Phantasms” is a fine example of the third problem. I have mixed emotions about it. Many fans are disturbed by the weird imagery and/or creeped out by the invisible parasites. Those two points do not bother me much.

But what does is that data has yet again gone bonkers with the result that once it is all over, no one really cares it happened yet again. Twenty-fourth century humans are forgiving souls. That is really nice. But come on. Should someone not be considering some safety precautions regarding how easily Data can flip out?

“Phantasms’ is the worst because there is no explanation offered as there was in “Brothers” or ’Descent’ where he was overtly under someone else’s control. Here he is acting out his dreams by stabbing crewmembers in areas he believes are infected by parasites only he can see. There is no distinction established whether he is acting in earnest or having awaking dream or how he could be having a dream without his program operating since he has to turn it on. In other words, Data’s dream program is used just an excuse to use all sorts of strange imagery in the story.

Boy, do they ever. La forge decides to hook Data up to the holodeck as he “sleeps” so he and Picard can walk through his dream. Sigmond Freud shows up, Crusher sucks through a straw on Riker’s head, Troi is a cake data is carving up--Cellular peptide with mint frosting--and railroad workers smash through a conduit. I found it amusing Picard warned the blind la Forge to be observant for any subtle symbolism. I am sure he will get right on that, captain.

Apparently he does, because they figure out how to destroy the invisible parasites by using some sort of sonic wave. Data somehow subconsciously knew that would work.

The Enterprise picked up the parasites on a new engine part on their last stop for repairs. They had infected the ship and most of the crew. These parasites destroy the cellular structure of anything they get attached to. We learn everything is going to collapse into a pile of glop within a few hours in they are not stopped, but they are all killed within five minutes of the revelation, so there is no time to build up any drama. In fact, no one gets emotional about it at all. Hence, the episode is nothing more than an excuse to see how surreal a situation the cew can be put in.

That is all anyone remembers about the episode, other than Worf’s declaration the troi cake has mint frosting and his reluctance to care for data’s cat once the android is confined to quarters. It is al amusing, but not enough to complete the package. If everyone is on the verge of death, there should be a much more dreadful mood. There is not. In fact, the sequence where Data stabs Troi in order to kill her parasite is mre disturbing than the idea everyone is about to die. The scene skewers perspective.

I could take or leave this one. There is not much to recommend it, but it could be considered another of those car crash episodes you do not want to look at, but just cannot help yourself. I am a Data fan, but I consider this the worst of the episodes focused on him outside of "The Schizoid Man," but is it not unfair to compare later episodes to the first couple seasons?

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Gambit, Part II"

I said yesterday “Gambit, Part II” is only a marginal improvement over part one because of it weirdness factor. This is true. The conclusion is like a horrible car wreck. You do not want to look, but you feel compelled to do so.

First, Picard and Riker join up with the pirates in order to discover what they are up to. Their undercover roles involve attacking and eventually boarding the Enterprise as hostiles.

Second, Data has a tough time commanding the Enterprise, mainly because his decisions do not suit Worf. the conflict is a repeat of the one Data had with his temporary first officer in “Redemption, Part II’ with the exception of Data taking less crap here. He chews out Worf for questioning his orders in front of the bridge crew. Instead of ripping the android’s arms out and beating him with them Woookie-style, Worf capitulates and apologizes. You see, filthy aliens always know they are wrong compared to both humans and humanois creations.

It made no sense Data did not appoint la Forge first officer anyway. The two work muxh better together. Is la Forge so much an engineering whiz he is indispensable down there or is the lack of promotion another hit in his hard knock life?

Third, NBA star James Worthy plays a Klingon who is supposed to meet up with the pirates. The appearance makes more sense than the Rock on VOY, but not much more. So far, we have had physicist Stephen hawking, astronaut Mae Jemison, and now NBA player James Worthy. Odd man out in that crowd, no?

Finally, Picard and Riker find a Vulcan who claims to be an undercover agent mixed in with the pirates. Considering Vulcans supposedly never lie, it is strange to discover they have secret agents. She really is not one, though. She is the one who wants the final, assembled doohickey which channels negative emotions into a weapon. She is something like Sybok from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier in that she is into Vulcan’s violently emotional past.

It is cool to see Vulcans playing a bigger part in TNG. Even though they are a founding member of the Federation, wehave not seen much of them in the series. This episode is the first time we discover for fact Vulcan was a founding member of the Federation. I think they had to throw in that bone to remind us all these shenanigans do not mean this is not still Trek.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Gambit, Part I"

The “Gambit” two parter is probably the most awkward story I have had to review. It is most certainly the most un-trek story of TNG’s run. Most fans do not care for it because of its awkward elements. I sympathize with that attitude. It does feel horribly out of place. In spite of its oddities, however, I have to give it some kudos. There is much weird fun to be had.

The opening scene features most of the bridge undercover in an alien bar inquiring as to the whereabouts of Picard. When I first saw this, I immediately thought this was an homage to the Mos Eiseley Cantina from Star Wars, albeit more subdued. You cannot compete with the Star Wars Cantina, people Considering I have yet to hear anyone associated with TNG own up to creating this as an homage, so either I am reading too much into it or they want to cover up the fact the mark was missed.

The crew discovers Picard was in the bar sometime ago. He was asking around about archeological sites being looted. He got into a fight and was apparently vaporized by a pirate’s gun.

Stop for a moment to think about this. Picard has inexplicably left the Enterprise to go off on some undercover mission to find stolen, ancient artifacts and wound up apparently being killed in a bar fight. When did Picard begin acting so recklessly? It is completely out of character. Picard is just not that so much of an adventurer he would go off on some rogue, personal mission like that. It is doubly strange when discovered he has joined a pirate crew in order to discover why they are robbing archeological digs.

Chalk it up to that wish fulfillment problem I wrote about earlier in regards to the seventh season. Patrick Stewart wanted more sex and guns for Picard, so now he is a pirate.

Pirates are, by the way, a violation of Gene Roddenberry’s nutty vision of the future. His edict was for there not to be any because their existence would violate some idealistic sense of 24th century morality, which just goes to further demonstrate Roddenberry’s ignorance about human nature. As long as there are valuables to be stolen, there will be pirates.

Riker is just as incredulous Picard died in a bar fight as the rest of us, so he decides to continue the captain’s investigation in order to hopefully find some meaning in his death. He winds up a prisoner of the pirates himself after a heated phaser battle. He discovers Picard on board the ship under an assumed identity of Galen. An odd choice for an alias, considering “Galen’ is associated with medicine and healing.

Afteradvocating they kill Riker--and expressing no relief they do not take him up on the suggestion--he informs his former first officer the pirates are looking for parts of some weapon or such. He says they should both join the crew to find out what this weapon is all about.

Meanwhile, we revisit an aspect of “Redemption, Part II” as Data has assumed command of the Enterprise while not seeming all that fit to do so because of his lack of emotion. Problems associated with that will explode next episode when everything else blows up, too. Sit tight until then. It only marginally improves over the first part, but it is so out of the ordinary, it is still worth watching.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Interface"

If you were clamoring for further proof la forge is the unluckiest man in Starfleet, here is the first of several parting shots the seventh season landed on the poor guy. This one cuts deep. Not only can he not establish a romantic relationship with the opposite sex, he loses his mother in a freak accident.

La Forge’s mother was the captain of a ship inexplicably lost on a survey mission. He has to cast the pain of his loss in order to use a new interface device which allows him to virtually explore an area too dangerous for people to visit. His mission is to search for survivors on another crashed ship. He cannot use the device log because it causes brain damage with extended use.

Take a survey of all this. First, he has lost his mother in a ship crash and cannot do anything about it. Second, he has to explore another ship crash which only adds to the painful irony of his situation. Third, he has to use a device invented so actual people can avoid going into areas where they will certainly die. In a few episodes, Troi will have to order, in a holodeck program, but still, la forge to repair a conduit in an area floded by deadly radiation. Finally, he is about to suffer brain damage from the effort.

See why he is so unlucky/ the man’s life is a Greek tragedy.

During the interface, he sees what he thinks is his mother. she says her crew istrapped on the planet’s surface. La Forge wants to use the interface again in order to communicate further, but Picard and Crusher refuses to allow it. Against his better judgment, Data helps his friend hook up the device so he can find his mother again.

It turns out not to be his mother. It is an alien who killed her and her entire crew inadvertently while trying to communicate. The only reason it can communicate with La Forge safely is because of the interface. The alien is trapped and needs LaForge’s help to get home. La Forge does so. He realizes this means his mother is truly dead.

This episode sticks out in my mind because most of the time when people are said to be trapped, they get rescued somehow even if everyone suspects they are dead and gone. It is rare to have such a downer ending and insult to injury that it happens to La Forge. As I have said several times already, the guy cannot catch a break.

Nifty bit of trivia: Levar Burton, Ben Vereen, and Madge Sinclair all previously starred in Roots sixteen years prior.

In spite of la Forge serving as an undue punching bag, this is a decent episode. It is the last time la Forge gets the spotlight. And it is the best of episodes centered around him. Of course, La Forge episodes are generally weak, so that is faint praise.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, December 25, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Liaisons"

Presets have been opened and turkey devoured. Now that everyone is either grunting over their full bellies or playing with their new loot, I shall sneak back into my study and cover today’s TNG episode. Luckily for you, I did not get a red Ryder BB gun, so I still have my lone peeper with which to work. Too bad “Liaisons” is the episode I have to write about.

“Frame of Mind” was the first in a trend of stories that will continue on through ENT of an odd twist at the end of an episode changing the entire perspective. We are not talking o’ Henry here, either. Or even the more low rent of Rod Serling‘s installments of The Twilight Zone . Sometimes it works. ’Frame of Mind” is a fine example. Many times, it did not. When it fails, I feel doubly cheated; first for what I thought the story was about and second for what it turned out to be. “Liaisons” is more the latter, but that still makes it disappointing.

The crew is serving as part of a cultural exchange with a newly contacted alien species. Picard is to travel to their planet while two of them will visit the Enterprise. Things go badly from the start. Picard’s shuttle crashes for the fourth time in the series on a remote planet. He is rescued by a woman who has been stranded there for seven years. She immediately falls in love with him although he protests she is just a nut from being alone too long.

On the Enterprise, Riker and Troi are assigned to escort two ambassadors. Riker’s refuses to work with him and demands Worf instead. If there is any redeemed aspect to the episode, it is poor Worf’s patience stretched to its limit. The ambassador does everything imaginable to exasperate him. Finally, when he is caught cheating at poker, Worf can stand it no more and utilizes his unique diplomatic skills as pictured above.

Surprisingly, the ambassador is pleaded to get his rear end handed to him. The real plot is then revealed. The aliens are there to study raw human emotion. Picard’s scenario was staged to study love, Worf’s was to study anger, and Troi’s to study pleasure.

We do not see any of Troi’s experiences, but a throwaway line says she was annoyed at how much fun her ambassador demanded to have. Frankly, I cannot imagine Troi being all that much fun. Nor can I figure out how, as an empath, she could not sense deceit on the aliens’ part. Perhaps that is why we do not see any of her travails. The plot hole would become obvious. Still, that missing aspect of the story is conspicuous.

When it is all said and done, Picard, Worf, and Troi decide the cultural exchange was all worthwhile. I am not sure why. Being manipulated in such ways has to begalling. But that is enlightened 24th century people for you.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Descent, Part I"

I must acknowledge an appreciation for the sixth season as a whole before delving into the finale. There were far fewer low points than usual for a 26 episode season. The highs were higher on average than normal, too boot. While Tng is a classic anyway, I daresay it should have ended after six. Certainly, I would have liked for it to go out on a better story than “Descent” managed to be, but in hindsight, I would prefer that than most of the incredibly odd seventh and final season. But one takes what one gets, for better or for worse.

Back in the pre-internet Dark Ages, a fan had to rely on magazines for spoilers. Those were often from the production company’s public relations department, so you never got good stuff. These days, you know everything about the season finale before you open your Christmas presents thanks to the world wide web. Even the Atlantic Ocean is no enough of a barrier to keep Doctor Who stuff a secret. So a couple weeks prior to seeing “Descent, Part I,” I stumbled across a tabloid article touting the appearance of Stephen Hawking, the most special effects laden sequence in the show’s history, and the return of the Borg. Knowing all this stuff beforehand was a totally cool experience back then.

As if you needed any further proof why the science minded fans hates the humanities oriented ones, I do not care about Hawking. I appreciate the novelty of him being on the show. He is a fan and, to date, is the only person to ever play himself on any Trek. I appreciate his theories about the beginning of the universe, but am perpetually irritated how God fits well within them, yet he refuses to acknowledge God as the Uncaused Cause. For what it is worth, I think more highly of Hawking than the purple faced angry fundamentalists types from Bob Jones university and Regent University I have encountered over the years.

I will also grant how they included him as neat. Data decides to gather the greatest physics minds in history--Hawking, Albert Einstein, and Isaac Newton-- on the holodeck for a poker game to see how they interact socially. The great John Neville plays Newton. The sequence is full of subtle jokes, so as Hawking noting Einstein is wrong several times--a nod to how Hawkings has proven a number of Einstein’s theories incorrect. They also throw in the false belief that Einstein could not do simple math. Folks, that isan urban legend. Einstein was a mathematical genius and always was.

Next, the most special effects laden sequence of the series. Yes, it was indeed cool for a television series. The Enterprise responds to a distress call out an outpost only to find it has been attacked by the Borg. They wind up in the biggest phaser battle perhaps in all of trek. These Borg are different. They are individuals rather than part of the Collective and highly vicious.

In the midst of the battle, Data is attacked in hand-to-hand combat. He gets visibly angry and breaks the Borg’s neck. When the batte is over and the Borg have fled the scene, he is still standing there. The android has experienced his first emotion. It is unsettling.

The next scene is the weakest of the episode. It is the obligatory conference room meeting where all the necessary exposition is laid out. The dialogue is so stiff and stereotypical, it would not pass muster in a Scooby Doo cartoon. Riker notes these new Borg have individual names. Troi pipes up that only Hugh hasa nameandthey gave it to him. Well thanks for adding that. Picard says that if the Borg are no longer interested in assimilating technology, since they left all equipment alone on the outpost, then they have to find out what the their new intentions are. Uh…you think? For a few minutes there, I though Maurice Hurley might be back to pen the episode.

Tha previous weak segment is almost made up for by the next. Admiral Nechayev finally confronts Picard about his dealings with the Borg. If you have been reading my reviews for awhile now, you will know I have been perplexed by how willing Starfleet wa sto allow Picard to go back to his role as flagship captain after his time as Locutus without any concern he might still be under their influence. My bewilderment was only exasperated when he discovered the Borgthe crew would eventually name Hugh, nurse it back to health, and send back to the Collective rather than hand him over to Starfleet intelligence for study. The admiral finally chews him out for wrestling with his conscience rather than making the concerns of the Federation in priority. I would almost call it too little, too late, but there you go. She still puts him in charge of dealing with the Borg, so obviously Starfleet command ignores its concerns on up until Star Trek: First Contact.

On a side note, the admiral names a number of ships flying to the area to join in the Borg hunt. One of them is the Gorkon. Gorkon was the name of the Klingon chancellor assassinated in Star Trek VI: The undiscovered Country. But it is a Federation ship, not a Klingon vessel. Chalk it up the TNG’s weird liberalism to name a ship after an enemy leader who ended a cold war. Would the United states name a ship the Gorbechev? I have doubts.

The Borg attack the Enterprise and one is captured. It is all part of a ruse to get to Data. The Borg, Crosis, uses a device to create emotions in Data. This illuminates another couple points I think are weak. One, Data has admitted to Troi he not only felt anger, but pleasure at killing the Borg who attacked him. No one gets freaked out by this. Two, during the attack on the outpost, the Borg expressed concern over their fallen comrades. Yet one of them had to be sacrificed in data’s rage. It is contradictory. Of course, the anger over the fallen is just thrown in to emphasize these Borg are different, so the whole sequence is a sign of bad writing.

Data helps Crosis escape. They disappear through some trans warp hole in space thingy. The Enterprise eventually follows and winds up 6,000 light years away or a distance it would take six years to travel, if you prefer. They come to a planet where Dataand Crosis have landed. You may recognize it as the same area the TOS episode “This Side of Paradise” was filmed. This is one of the extremely rare instances both TOS and TNG filmed in the same remote location.

Picard, la Forge, and Troi investigate what looks to be an abandoned building, but are soon surrounded by Borg. The mastermind of the operation is revealed to be Lore, with data, now eaten up with negative emotions fed to him. The two plan to destroy the Federation.

To be continued…

“Descent, Part I” has some serious weak points as I have noted. They distract, but do not necessarily ruin the episode. Still, I would label it the weakest cliffhanger of the season finales to date. I appreciate the classic ending. How many villains want to conquer the good guys completely? It is like the plotline of taking over the world. We are so cynical about the way things are, it is impossible to imagine some megalomaniac wants to take over. But still, it is just mediocre. Bonus points, oddly enough, are awarded to Crusher for being the first woman left in command of the Enterprise. It only took 27 years for it to happen. Yay, women’s liberation!

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Timescape"

“Timescape” is one of those episodes that demonstrates why the more science minded fans dislike the social science aficionados like me. The plot is extraordinarily theoretical and while the solution may or may not be rooted in valid science, it reminds me of sitting through mind-numbingly boring college lectures in order to fill an academic no one in their right mind would think a liberal arts major/future lawyer would ever need to know. Ergo, this ain’t my cup ’’java.

One aversion I have is how much the episode is like “The Next Phase,” right down to the Enterprise getting into trouble aiding the Romulans, characters going about their plans with the rest of the crew unaware of their existence, and even la Forge as one of the main characters. It does not help much I did not care for “The Next Phase.” I thought it wasa missed opportunity to explore 24th century views on life after death which were blown off much too quickly. There is nothing even potentially like that at all in “Timescape.”

It is all a straightforward techno babble solution to a strange problem no one could ever visualize happening.

Picard, Data, Troi, and La Forge are returning in a runabout from a science conference where they have spent the entire time in various lectures. These guys sure go to some fun places. At least they are grumbling about what an awful experience they had. time freezes for a second, indicating something is rotten in thestate of Denmark. When they reach the Enterprise, they discover it is frozen in time, too, with Romuans on board, and a war core breach in progress for good measure.

In reality, time is still moving, so the war core breach is still a problem La forge whips up a solution involving a modified tricorder which works, but not before we get to ooh and aah and the destruction of the Enterprise and watching Romulans walk backwards. A thrill a minute.

Like I said, not my cup of java. The mostly solid sixth season is rolling to the finish line on fumes. Tomorrow’s season finale marks the beginning of the entire series sputtering to an end. It was fun while it lasted, no?

Rating: ** (out of 5) .

Monday, December 21, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Second Chances"

Full disclosure--I am not a ’shipper, particularly on a show that deals with every relationship interaction in a superficial, immature manner. Picard, La Forge, Riker, et al have not evolved beyond the junior high level understanding of relationships. Think about it. Picard is afraid of women, La Forge cannot advance beyond puppy love, and Riker is a gigolo. When he does eventually hook up with Troi, it is all because of some mystical “imzadi’ connection. Their love cannot even be natural. There has to be something science fiction-y about it.

No wonder the only mature, married couple lwft for DS9 the first chance they got. The Enterprise had to be frustrating.

As the title suggests, Riker and Troi get something of a second chance at returning to better days when the crew discovers a transporter accident eight years ago created duplicate of Riker before stranding him on an evacuated planet. He still has the hots for her. It takes some stoking of embers, but she eventually realizes she still has feeling for the more brash, exciting Riker Double.

The real Riker does get smacked around badly here. First, the people you get along with the least are the ones who have character traits similar to yours. It is because you can glaringly see your own character flaws in them. The aggravation has to be enhanced when the other person actually is yourself. No one really wants to look at themselves honestly, much less have all their friends watching the whole affair.

Second, Riker double still has a youthful energy and drive the real Rier has lost along the way. One of the weakest pints of the character is that we are told he is a hotshot officer Starfleet is eager to have as a captain, but we do not see much about him that proves it. The further along the show goes without him taking the next big step, the more diminished he becomes.

The idea of killing off the real Riker during the episode was discussed. Riker Double would have taken over Data’s job while the android would have been promoted to first officer. Pure speculation here, but the dynamics potential sounds much better than previous plans to add Shelby or the literal result of adding Ro. It would have eliminated the whole question of why will this guy not just become a captain already? In other ways, that would have been a cop out forfans, eliminating the drama of Riker’s death, and serving as a knock to Jonathan Frakes, too.

But Riker still does not get off easy. He looks boring compared to Riker Double. Which leads to my final point--it has got to hurt when your on again/off again honey flat out admits you bore the heck out of her, not by dating a younger, more exciting different guy, but by dating your old self. Ouch. Talk about the thrill being gone, huh?

Double Riker decides he will use his middle name Thomas and establish his own identity onboard the Ghandi. (Yes, a fully armed Federation ship called the Ghandi. I will bet it was the first to be destroyed in the Dominion War. At least I hope it was.) He asks Troi to go with him, but she declines, almost with a resigned sigh. It reminds me of that feeling you get tolerating a neck rub from your girlfriend even though you would rather use thesore bough massager just because you do not want to hurt their feelings. Except in this case, the store bought massager is joining a pseudo-military vessel named after a pacifist and will be gone forever. Bummer.

So much for the transporter being the safest way to travel, too, no? That thing causes all kinds of problems. The worst is yet to come. In “Deadlock,” the transporter will create duplicates of the entire VOY crew. The horror! The horror!

“Second Chances’ is not bad, but I do not think I get the intended emotions from it. Perhaps if I cared more for the Riker/Troi dynamic. But I suspect that would not help, either. Trek just does not do romance well even when the character are likable.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Rightful Heir"

I have been looking forward to writing about “Rightful Heir” for a while now. As I speculated yesterday, Gene Roddenberry’s death seems to have allowed for a more expanded, less chauvinistic treatment of women in “Face of the Enemy‘ and “Suspicions.” “Rightful Heir” offers religion the first honest, non-hostile view in trek.

Yes, I know--”Bread and Circuses” in TOS had worshippers of “the son.” that is about the most overrated defense of Roddenberry obnoxious humanism I have ever heard. The man hated religion and saw no value in it, even minimally as a cultural element. Stop denying it.

Do not believe me? Try this experiment: name a TNG character other than Worf who you could see practicing a religion. There is not one. By Roddenberry’s 24th century, man has embraced worship of itself. Only lowly aliens in heed of human correction would be so dumb, so immature, as to need religious belief. Religion is not even a plausible possibility for a human.

So Worf is the only choice to have a spiritual awakening. I do not mind that, as ’Rightful Heir” shows some early hints of the more Klingon Worf Ronald D. Moore is going to present in DS9. As I am certain I am mentioned before, I was lukewarm to worf until he joined DS9 and became a more well-rounded character.

I am certain I have also mentioned before how intrigued I am by Moore’s positive treatment of religion in general and Christianity in specific. It really shines through in Battlestar Galactica where, in good Calvinist fashion, it was all part of the Divine Plan. Here is the first time he gets to shine with that. The returned Kahless is so much a Jesus Christ allegory, Rick Berman’s eyes bled during filming. Apparently, he hates every idea that might elevate the show beyond the mediocre. Pair him up with generally mediocre writer Brannon Braga and watch them create the tepid VOY and ENT. Weeee!

Worf has been having problems since he returned from searching for heather. He has been feeling a need to get back to his spiritual roots. Because he is neglecting his duties--and certainly not because Worf’s new need for prayer and meditation spooks him--Picard grants Worf a leave to visit a Klingon temple.

There, he encounters Kahless, someone he expected only to see in a vision. Kahless is essentially the Klingon Jesus. His origins are normal, but he promised to one day gave a Second Coming to savethe Empire. Now appears to be the time. Kahless turns out to be a clone, but Worf, sensing a spiritual hunger in his people, convinces Chancellor Gowron to allow Kahless the role of spiritual leader. Either it works out swell or Kahless has a fatal accident on the way to the Empire, because we never hear anything else about it.

I am curious if Christians were offended by the Christ-like overtones of Kahless or if any who would be steer clear of trek to begin with. It did not bother me when I first sawit, but I do recal a Bob Jones educated teacher turn his nose up at a conversation I was having with a friend over it back in tenth grade.

I thought the story was saying there is a need for spiritual awakening in modern times because we have lost something vital by tossing it aside. I felt the Jesus allegory was about as an overt statement as one will ever get on popular television that Christianity ought to fill that void. Whether Moore meant it that way or not is inconclusive. I was well impressed regardless.

It is a good episode, if for no other reason than Roddenberry probably rolls over in his grave every time it airs. Nothing like it would have ever been produced while he was alive.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Suspicions"

It is no stretch to consider Beverly Crusher the most undeveloped TNG character. She has two purposes: to fill the obligatory doctor’s role and fill a need for more important male characters. In other words, she is Wesley’s mother and Picard’s maybe/maybe not love interest. The rare episodes centered on her are extensions of those roles. Even if Wesley and Picard are replaced. For example, she played the “mother” to Amanda Rogers in “True Q” and the maybe/maybe not romantic interest to Odan in “The Host.” Outside of those roles, she been highly incidental.

A lot of fans chalk up the general status of women’s roles on Trek to Gene Roddenberry. I see no reason to skewer him here for alleged chauvinism, but I do have to point out the two female leads of TNG, Troi and Crusher, did not even begin breaking out of the traditional female roles until this season, which is the first complete after Roddenberry’s death. Troi got to be a proactive figure out of her element in “Face of the Enemy.” Crusher gets to do her thing for the first and arguably only time in “Suspicions.”

I am not a big fan of the character. I would list her at the bottom of all the trek doctors who have come before and since. Yes, that includes Phlox. Fans of ENT should take note I have given praise, faint though it may be, to an aspect of that show. I do not find her interesting, am not convinced she is the medical miracle worker McCoy was, and I never really saw much sex appeal in her. She is not unattractive necessarily. Just bland. Perhaps that is why Picard kinda sorta digs her, although I suspect it is more in tune with his nature to feel obligated to look after her considering her husband died under his command.

All that said, I will give suspicions an ’A” for effort for trying to give her an edge even though some of it was laughably absurd. The high karate kick she gives J’Obril during the climax is supposed to show off her (stuntwoman’s) butt Emma peel style, but the bit is so out of left field, it is impossible to get any sex appeal out of it. It is just laughable. But taking it upon herself to violate protocol, even when it will mean court martial, is a worthy mark of her dedication. Like I said, I do not think she is a convincing medical miracle worker, but she is still a good doctor. Why has it taken six seasons to emphasize that as opposed to her being only a mother, and safety girlfriend?

But what about the rest of the episode? There is a further effort to rehabilitate theFerengi by presenting a one as a brilliant scientist. You figure there had to be some like him among his people. Said scientist invented metphasic shields, a new technology which is not paid muc’h attention to anywhere after this episode. Not atypical for some new, revolutionary discovery on trek. The strangest thing is J’Obril, an alien whose physiology is so redundant, he can survive the loss of most of his body. He plays opossum, a characteristic you can only imagine his species developing if they were constantly subject to more formidable predators. J’Obril appears rather tough, so one would probably not like to run into said predators.

‘Suspicions” is watchable, but nothing to seek out unless you are a big Crusher fan. Umm…why would you be one of those?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Frame of Mind"

I went on yesterday about Joe Menosky, so let me take a little time here to smack Brannon Braga around. I have not critiqued him much so far aside from declaring ’The Game” the worst episode of TNG. He is decent writer when his work load is manageable and he is in his element. For “Frame of Mind,” he is in the zone.

There is no way to know if his workload has anything to do with the greater quality of his scripts on TNG, but it certainly appears to be the case. When called upon to write three or four episodes a year, he was fine, sometimes even great. But later on he becomes showrunner for VOY and ENT pumping out twelve scripts a season. It turns into too many mediocre ideas carrying too much of the workload.

The problem is Braga lacks the vision to create his own show. As proof, look no further than Future Guy from ENT. As far as fans knew, he was a mysterious figure from the future manipulating events to his own, evil ends. His eventually identity reveal would be a shock. That is basic story telling. A junior high aged Trekkie posting fan fiction on LiveJournal could draw that narrative map. But no, Braga admits proudly he and rick Berman have no idea who Future Guy is. They will just come up with a story for him later. No, you will not. ENT tanked because even diehard Trekkies could not stand it. Fans are not going to watch a show where the creators do not even care about what they are doing.

Let me give you another example. I think Aaron Sorkin is a pretentious, progressive twit. But his run on The West Wing was mesmerizing even if my heart was not in the message. When he left the show, John Wells took over. Under his guidance, the show rapidly collapsed before finally limping over the finish line. Was it because John Wells is a bad writer? No. His simultaneous run on ER was masterful because he was in his element. Wells wants to be a progressive visionary, but he just does not have the juice. It is the same with Braga.

I imagine I will have plenty of opportunity to discuss his shortcomings as a show runner in the future, but what is more relevant is to discuss his general shortcomings as a writer. Like Wells, Braga often wants to be something he is not. Welles has a difficult time grasping politics. Braga has case of that, too. But Braga has a big problem with logical flow. He is great when writing the surreal, such as “Power Play,” ’Scisms,” “Cause and Effect,” and Data’s dream sequences in “Birthright, Part I.” But hen he has to design straightforward story arcs and flesh out his characters, he tanks.

Fortunately for now, “Frame of Mind” isall about the surreal. It is right up there with “Chain of Command, Part II” as the darkest episode of TNG. You can flip a coin between the two deciding which would terrify you more: being a forgotten prisoner, torture red the rest of your life or going mad and being of prisoner of your own deranged mind. I would probably give the edge to the latter.

One thing that makes the episode good is that Riker is put out of his element. He is a commander. The authorities, swashbuckling ladies man type. All that is taken away from him here. He is a weak, stew of mental illness. It is upsetting to see how far he has fallen, because we can put ourselves in his shoes and tremble how we would feel if we lost ourselves, no matter how much we grumble about our lives, the way he has.

Riker’s collapse into madness is done well, even though some mental health organizations have complained about the repeated use of the term “crazy.” I am far from politically correct, but I will not complain much about that one either way. My one gripe about the mental illness aspect is that Data compliments Riker on playing a patient with dementia well when his mental disorder appears to be schizophrenia instead. But hey, data called a fish an amphibian in “The Outrageous Okona,” so sometimes are favorite know-it-all android shanks it to the left.

(Remember I said Braga has a tough times with facts? Perhaps he does not understand mental illness any better than evolutionary biology, something that will really trip him up on multiple occasions in the future.)

To finish up the review, while I will not say it is a problem here, “Frame of Mind” established a genre of Trek episodes in which we do not learn until the last few minutes that what we have been watching up until that point is not real. We know something odd is going on as Riker bounces from performing in a play, to training for a mission to rescue Federation observers, to being trapped in a sanitarium, but we get no hints he is under mind reading torture until the very end of thestory. It does not come across as a cop out here, but not all repeated uses of the narrative method will be so fortunate.

All told, “Frame of Mind” is a highlight of the sixth season. Riker has been neglected for much of the sixth season so far and diminished at times when he was not. It is good to see him extraordinarily extricate himself from a situation here using something other than brawn.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

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

I do not believe any other episode besides ’The Game” has fans as divided as “The Chase.” It is no mystery why. All the elements for mixed emotions are present. The premise is an homage to Carl Sagan’s Contact, in which the secrets are of the universe are revealed by calculating Pi, but comes across much like It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World only with aliens. The ending message of unity f all (humanoid) life is pure Gene Roddenberry, but it is pure 1960’s hippie Roddenberry. To top it all off, the episode is written by Joe Menosky, the master of high concept fans either love or hate.

I do not believe I have said much about Menosky up until this point, but I like him way more often than not. He only wrote two episodes I do not really care for. Both are upcoming in the lackluster seventh season. Menosky’s main career was and, as far as I know, still is as a technology journalist. He has a penchant for theoretical science which he put into virtually all his scripts. It is risky to be so high concept and it appears other fans do not cut him as much slack as I do when he gets into the weird stuff. He is good on TNG, but he does not truly shine until the writing staff is divided between DS9 and VOY. He is the only consistently good writer for VOY.

You should already be able to tell I liked “The Chase” even though sagan was an obnoxious atheist currently roasting in hell and Hippie Roddenberry marks some of the worst of Trek. Could it be my silly fondness for It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World overcomes those problems? Probably. I am even willing to forgive the obnoxious notion Humans, Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans, and presumably Vulcans, considering their connection to Romulans, have a common ancestor because it at least makes an attempt to finally explain why all these strange aliens all look like humans in rubber make up.

I also enjoy the cynical feel of it all, mostly of which is unintentional because later events change your perspective. There are two big ones. First, Picard’s old archeology professor gifts him an ancient artifact he raves over. It is such a precious item, he is not worthy of owning it. But in Star Trek: Generations, he tells Riker to just casually toss it aside from the rubble of the crashed Enterprise as if he cares nothing for it. The thing wasstill in one piece, as well!

The second point is the ancient humanoid who recorded the greeting the aliens eventually find. She is played by Salome Jens, who will go on to play the Female Changeling in DS9. Therefore, she will wind up as one of the best trek villains ever. But here she is supposed to represent, although never explicitly stated, one of the Preservers from “The Paradise Syndrome.” Unfortunately, her appearance reminds me too much nowadays of the Sphere Builders from ENT. So much for decent connections, no?

The best cynical aspect of it all is the recording expected all the races to have united in peace in order to come looking for their origins. In reality, they were competing against one another and disappointed the discovery was more scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco” and less Ernest Walton splitting the atom.

I cannot write a review without featuring this exchange, either:
PICARD: Until we assemble it, we will never know its purpose.

GUL OCET: He's right. As far as we know it might just be a recipe for biscuits!

NU'DAQ: Biscuits? If that's what you believe, then go back to Cardassia, I will send you my mother's recipe.
That is pure comedy gold.

The powers that be had mixed emotions about the episode, too. Menosyk and Ronald D. Moore were happy with the end result. Rick Berman felt the hippie ending was too silly even for a show promoting a positive future like TNG. He was not looking hard enough. I thought the complete abandonment of the discovery by everyone because nothing from it could not be used as a weapon was perfectly post-modern. I may be jaded beyond redemption, however.

The most telling criticism came from director Jonathan Frakes. He grumbled about being forbidden from filming outside because of budget constraints, pointedly complaining the money was being spent ’across the street.” By that, he meant on DS9. This was a sign of the times. While there are some good episodes remaining, TNG is on the natural decline all shows suffer. I suspect Frakes’ frustration is misguided. Paramount wanted another TNG season and forced the cast to return for it if they wated to be in the planned movie franchise. But the writing is on the wall. At this point, DS9 was catching my interest much more than TNG.

Nevertheless, “The Chase” isa good episode. Not a classic, but highly enjoyable. It suits my personality to a tee.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Lessons"

“Lessons” is the other half of the sex and guns wish fulfillment for Patrick Stewart. I think calling this one “sex’ is stretching the concept to the breaking point, but I assume this sort of thing is about as exciting as Picard gets in the romance department. what results is an attempt to further attempt to recapture the feel of “The Inner Light” that falls short.

The episode begins with Picard stomping down to stellar cartography because that section has shut down a number of resources hewants to use. When he gets there, he spots Nella Daren.

Cue “Dream Weaver” and start the wind machine to blow through her hair.

The two begin romancing. Picard has to assure her he means it because he never enters relationships casually. I think he had to tell her that because he isso dry, she cannot tell the difference. Just in case you were not aware this was an effort to continue Picard’s growth from ’The Inner Light,’ the key scene involves Picard and Daren jamming in a Jefferies tube with her on keyboard and him on a flute like Kamen’s.

Problems arise when Picard cannot bring himself to send her on dangerous missions. Considering he has sent his best friend Jack Crusher out to die while treating his son likean annoyance, lost 18 crewmembers in ’Q Who?” without blinking, barely flinched when Gul Madred told him Worf had been killed in “Chain of Command, Part II,” and has demonstrated a willingness to allow civilizations to die off in the name of adhering to Starfleet regulations, that is about as significant proof of love as one could ask for from him.

Daren eventually decides to request a transfer. Picard suggests they coordinate their shore leaves together. She expresses little enthusiasm, but hopes he will continue his flute playing. In other words, he is still too much Picard, not enough Kamen. I am sure la Forge could relate to this point by now.

“Lessons” is not a bad episode, but it is not my cup of tea. I am forever skeptical of the notion Picard was ever a ladies man. We saw in ’Tapestry” he was more a cad--scheduling two dates on the same night, getting slapped, having a drink thrown in his face, and yet blowing it all off to bed his closest female friend. Perhaps he is more cautious now in his old age since he has learned better, but it just is not convincing. The show has muddled his romantic history so much there is no way to do a good story with it.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Starship Mine"

Patrick Stewart petitioned the producers back in the third season, when he was contemplating leaving the show because he felt his character was too dull, to write a “sex and guns” story for Picard. What he got was the awful “Captain’s Holiday.” He opted to remain regardless and finally got his sex and guns in the sixth season, albeit split between two episodes.

“Starship Mine” is the guns part of the duo. Picard is trapped alone on the ship with terrorists as it is being cleaned with a lethal, rolling energy sweep They are looking to steal some sludge from the warp core to make a biological weapon. Thestory is all Die Hard, Under Seige and Passenger 57 with very little of the trappings of Trek other than La Forge’s bad luck reasserting itself. He gets shot when the bridge crew is also held hostage on the plaet the Enterprise is orbiting.

There is not much more to say about it. It isa refreshing change to have a pureaction episode without any moralizing. The action is exciting, if rather mindless.

Tim Russ appears as oe of the terrorists a couple years before he would play Tuvok on VOY. So there is that. Data opts to practice his small talks kills with a Starfleet officer known to be mind numbingly boring. It is a running gag they keep up the nonsense chatter up until the officer is killed by the terrorists. Mercifully, I might add.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Birthright, Part II"

The problem with this episode can be summed up quite easily by Michael Piller’s inspiration for the story. He had just seen Malcolm X when it dawned on him he was much like Worf. In hindsight, Piller has claimed in interviews he does not understand why the episode went over like a lead balloon.

It is obvious to me; Malcolm X was a racist who promoted violent acts to attain his goals. He should not be a role model for one of TNG’s main characters. Thefans understood that. Worf comes across as incredibly prejudiced here, first with his hatred of Romulans and then abandoning a potential romantic relationship because his object of affection is half Romulan.

The unpleasant reactions by Worf are doubly worse because every effort is made to make the Klingons and Romulans sympathetic. The Klingons were captured and not allowed to die. Rather than return to their families in shame, they opted to remain prisoners. A Romulan commander took pity on them and built this remote camp for them to live. It is a pseudo-prison, but they have married, had children, and live more or less happily.

Then Worf comes along angry they have abandoned the Klingon spirit. In particular, they have not taught their children Klingon ways.

Worf turns out to be a disrupting influence. He tells the children of the traditions their parents have abandoned. Wen he tries to light the fire in their parents, hewinds up nearly causing an armed conflict, something they had ot worried about in decades.

He is allowed to leave--booted out, actually--and takes the children with him under the guise they are survivors of a ship crash years ago. The camp is allowed to continue on in secret with the Klingons and Romulans coexisting.

I find all this uncomfortable. Worf is highly unappealing here because of his prejudiced attitude. It is also disturbing how the dynamics of the Klingons and the Romulans works. They are prisoners and overlords, yet they are a community, as well. There is a sense of brainwashing that is hard to get past, but when their only salvation is the Klingon Malcolm X, I have a tough time caring.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Birthright, Part I"

The Enterprise visits DS9 for what amounts to a weak crossover event with bashir and morn appearing. I recall expecting more out of it when it was first announced there would be crossover in a two part episode. Ds9 had only aireda few episodes at this point, but I was already intrigued. An epic adventure between the two crew would have been awesome.

Alas, it was not to be. I have mixed emotion about the personal discovery story we got instead featuring Data and Worf. I am a fan of Data. He is the most fascinating character on TNG because he, ironically for an emotionless android, received the most character growth. Which is to say he had any growth at all. Worf I am not so much a fan. I can explain better about him in the next episode since it focuses on him entirely while Data’s story is disappointingly done in one.

This is the first appearance of Data’s dream program. It was originally supposed to feature data having an near death, out of body experience, but that idea was nixed by Michael Piller. It is interesting to me the religious overtones that were to be involved in data’s near death experience were suggested by Ron D. Moore. In a few more episodes, Moore is going to run into Piller’s objections again as he deals with the return of Kahless with what Piller considered too many Christ-like overtones. Keeping in mind Moore’s overall story arc in the Battlestar Galactica revival was that God was behind it all--Oh, the blessed Calvinism!--I am taking a fresh look at the religious aspects in much of Moore’s work, particularly DS9. I suspect his positive views on religious belief is one of the things that makes me like him so much.

Since the out of body experience idea was canned, an engineering accident serves as the catalyst for Data’s dreaming. It winds up being an incredibly psychodelic fantasy. Sort of a cross between an Edgar Allan Poe story and a Smashing Pumpkins video from back in their heyday. You know, before Jessica Simpson gelded Billy Corigan.

As proof of what a throaway the Ds9 crossover is, Bashir meets Data, marvels at how personable he is, requests to authora paper about him, and then departs. Neither he or data’s dream program are mentioned again after data decides hewill begin shutting himself off at night in order to dream. Which begs the question--you guessed it--does he dream of electric sheep?

Worf’s story is much less involved in this first part. He learns through an informant played by James Cromwell under a ton of make up that his father may have survived Kitimer and was taken prisoner by the Romulans instead. He may still be alive. Worf does not want to even consider the possibility. The shame of being a POW Would extend even to Alexander, not that the snotty brat would care.

As usual, worf is convinced by humans to quit being such a barbaric alien and do things their way, so he decides to go looking for his father. He finds a POW camp, but the Klingons and Romulans are actually living there in an unusual peace with one another. Worf discovers his father did die at Kitomer, but now that he know where this camp is, he can never leave.

“Birthright, Part I” is not a bad episode, but I am only interested in the development of Data. Worf’s story is pretty much paint by numbers stubborn embrace of the Klingon way until some human shake their heads and click their tongues at him to dump all that rot. Then it becomes a First Blood/Missing in Action rescue the POW left behind kind of deal a decade too late to resonate. It gets worse next episode as Worf’s bigoted attitude becomes obnoxiously insufferable.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Tapestry"

Talk about your weird happenings. Yesterday, I liked a Troi-centric episode even though my loathing of her is well known. Today, I am going to sing the praises of a Q episode and I like him even less. It just goes to show how good the sixth season was. Aside from a shot at la Forge romance that missed my a country mile, even the usually bad elements of TNG are good this season.

I may be giving too much credit here. Q is virtually incidental to the real story. He basically plays Al to Picard’s Sam Beckett when Picard gets a chance to correct a past mistake that will supposedly keep him alive in the future. I liked Quantum leap, too, so the homage does not hurt.

The episode opens with Picard rushed to sick bay, dying with a major wound in his chest. It would not have otherwise been fatal but for his artificial heart. Picard does seemingly die. He arrives in a cloud of white nothingness only to be confronted by Q. Picard refuses to believe he is dead or that Q is God, so q brings up the captain’sdeadfather as proof.

I have to comment on this scene. It says so much about why Picard is the way he is. His father berates him for joining Starfleet. He wanted his son to stay behind and work in the family vineyards. Pappy takes his son’s death as proof he was right all along to oppose Picard’s career goals and expresses disappointment in him.

Two points come to mind. One, Picard is 64. Even with the expanded life spans of the 24th century, that is a long run. Picard is well passed his prime. It cannot be terribly unusual to die at such an age. Two, Picard is the captain of the Federation flagship. He saved the galaxy from the Borg. That is just the cherry on top of the sundae of his accomplishments. He is also a respected explorer, diplomat, and archeology expert. What does he have to accomplish for his father to be proud of him? No wonder he is such a career oriented cold fish.

Picard refuses to accept death, so Q gives him a chance to go back in time in order to chage the one thing that will save him in the future--avoid getting stabbed through the heart by a Nausican.

The bulk of the episode takes place in his cadet days. He has a wild best buddy named Cortin who concocts the plan to get revenge ona Narsican who cheated at pool which leads to the fateful fight. He also hags out with and eventually bangs Marta, a female friend.

Here is another bit I need to comment on. It has been established Picard was a ladies man in his youth. I find it hard to believe. But he is presented as a cad in his younger days here. He gets slapped by one girl and has a drink thrown in his face by another because he thought he could date both on the same night. Instead, he winds up sleeping with marta, something hedid not do in the past. All this is out of character. It feels like the writers are trying to fita square peg--literally--into a round hole because that is the way Picard was said to act back then even if it is a laughable idea.

He remembers his purpose here when the time comes ad stops Cortin from fighting the Narsican. As a result, he never joins in, sohe keeps his real heart.

Flash ahead. Picard is a lowly assistant science officer. He is stuck in a dead in job with no room for advancement. This is the kind of life he would have had if he had not taken the notion to join his friend in a fight. Once Riker practically laughs at the idea Picard could ever be a part of the command staff, Picard decides he would rather die at 64 with an artificial heart than live such a boring, unimaginative life.

Q gives him a chance to go back. This time, he joins in the fight and gets stabbed through the heart. It is a nice sequel to “Samaritan Stare’ when he told Wesley about this incident. He said he looked down at the blade in his chest and laughed, but did not know why. Now he does. He laughed because he set history back the way it is supposed to be.

He revives ack in sick bay with his heart repaired. Evidently, that is a parting gift from !. What good is learning a lesson if you are not around to put it into practice?

Which begs the question--what is the lesson? The title says it all. A tapestry is a series of woven threads. You cannot remove one thread without tearing the entire weave. For better and for worse, all the stupid things we have done in lifeare a part of what we are. Even if they are embarrassing mistakes we would desperately like to change, the consequences would not necessarily make us better people. You are what you are. Appreciate it while you can.

I like “Tapestry.” it feels a bit like an attempt to recapture the feeling of “The Inner Light,” but it stands well on its own. It is the only Q episode I have high praise for, including the series finale. But that is a story for another time.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Face of the Enemy"

What is this? Two Troi-centric episodes in one season and I like both of them? Surely a sign of the apocalypse.

But it is true. One of the reasons I like “Face of the Enemy” is because the writers finally embrace the sinister nature of Troi’s empathic abilities while making no apologies for it. Here, she is kidnapped by Romulans loyal to Spock’s reunification movement. Posing as a member of the Tal Shiar--think the Nazi Gestapo--she has to keep the crew of a Romoulan ship on their toes in order to ensure the safe smuggling of allies out of the empire.

She relishes the role, finally letting loose to be the callous, manipulative ice queen you would expect someone who could read your true emotions against your will would be. This is what I think an empath would be all about rather than a sympathetic counselor. Would one not be grossly cynical constantly living with the knowledge of everyone’s duplicity between their thoughts and actions/ I would think so, but I have a dark view of human nature. Your mileage may vary.

I liked this episode even though I am neither a fan of Troi or the Romulans. My aversion to troi has been well documented, but as for the Romulans, they have not been compelling villains since “Balance of Terror” in TOS. Apparently, I am not the only one. Although Spock’s mission is mentioned in passing, it is never addressed again except for an allusion in 2009’s Star Trek. Sela is also never seen again. She and Spock must have run off to Risa together in some sort of May-December tryst prior to Star Trek: Nemesis.

Even if the issues dealt with here are never addressed again, I enjoyed the episode. Worf’s ponytail appears for the first time, too. I think it isa more fitting look than theDonna Reed bob he had been sporting since the first season. He looks more like a warrior. So Troi is not the only character to make a more honest change. Ironic the two of them will nearly hook up next season.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Aquiel"

When asked his biggest regret about his decade-long association with Trek, Ronald D. Moore once said he should never, ever have written “Aquiel.” I tend to agree. With all due respect to my favorite trek writer, this one is the only dud in the otherwise excellent sixth season.

It is a La Forge-centric episode. Up until this point, those have fallen into two categories. One, La Forge has a doomed romance. Two, he is at the mercy of evil aliens. None have been particularly good, so it is astounding why both La Forge plots would be combined in one episode with the idea that might work. Two wrongs only make a right in algebra, folks.

There is a murder mystery at a communications station near the Klingon border. Aquiel may very well have killed her superior officer, a man she spoke negatively of in her personal logs. La Forge, inexplicably taking center stage in the investigation instead of security officer Worf, falls for her. The whodunnit takes a couple twists which reveal the Federation-Klingon alliance can still have tense moments until la Forge is finally attacked by the real killer: a shapeshifting alien posing as Aquiel’s dog.

That would be the peanut/turd thingy pictured above. Not exactly a DS9 Changeling there, no?

The alien killed the murder victim some time ago and took his place on the communications station, so he was never really there at any point. How the shapeshifter knew enough about him to effectively pose as him is anyone’s guess. It killed the dog, too, at some point. Somehow, I suspect that has fans more up in arms than any humn death.

With the rather disappointing revelation the dog did it, the only possible highlight of the episode could be the romantic element. Prepare to be disappointed. It does not sing or dance, even when la Forge offers to help the now free Aquiel to get assigned to the Enterprise so they can be together. She has obviously had words with Leah Brahms--there is probably a 24th century Facebook group for women La Forge has had the hots for just to warn them--because she opts to head off to another assignment, never to be seen or heard from again.

“Aquiel’ is also an homage to the 1944 film Laura in which a detective falls in love with a murdered woman only to realize she is not only still alive, but may be a murder. I suggest seeking the movie out and skip this episode altogether.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Ship in a Bottle"

It was a mere four episodes ago that the crew suffered a holodeck issue which nearly got them killed. Here we are yet again.

There is a decent twist on it this time around. Prof. Moriarty from the second season’s “Elementary, Dear Data” returns demanding to be given freedom to leave the holodeck even though he can only exist within a holo program. He cons several crewmembers into believing he can do so by shear force of will--Decartes ”I think, therefore I am“--when they are actually still on the holodeck unknowingly held hostage while the rest of the crew is charged with either freeing him from his limited existence or facing imminent destruction when a nearby phenomenon will destroy the ship while it is under his control.

I liked the ending because they give him what he wants by placing him unknowingly in an extended holo program that will provide him with a lifetime of memories. It is a touching concession considering they could have just as easily destroyed him after he freed the ship. There would not have been any consequences sine Moriarty was nothing but energy turned to solid matter. Of course, Picard has to get the last word in by breaking the fourth wall and pondering whether our reality is truly happening or is someone else’s simulation.

I am in the camp that is it really happening. Surely no one would be sadistic enough to find forcing people to live under the reality we do fun.

This episode was a long time in coming. Back in the second season, the writers assumed Sherlock Holmes was in the public domain when they used the characters. Alas, it was nt so. Legal wrangling took nearly four years, but Moriarty was allowed to menace our heroes again. His appearance caps off a highly literary sixth season in which features Mark Twain and plots lifted from A Ppicture of Dorian Gray and 1984.

I have to admit it was cool to watch the greatest criminal mind ever match wits with the crew. It is good enough to even let slide ’ship in a Bottle” is yet another holodeck episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Chain of Command, Part II"

When I decided to review Trek episodes, I knew there were going to be quite a few I would not want to watch again. Not because they are bad, although some do fall in that category, but because some are so draining. It is the key reason I have a love/hate relationship with the idea of covering Ds9 once TNG is done. The best example of this from TNG is “Chain of Command, Part II.” I watched it anyway. It is every bit as difficult to watch as it was seventeen years ago.

Before I say anything else, I have noted in my travels about the internet this episode is often cited as an indictment of the current US policy towards Gitmo detainees. That is grossly inaccurate analogy. But I braced myself for a potentially new perspective more in line with the anti-war attitude since I have not watched “CoCII” in over a decade. Not only did it reaffirm my original assertion there is no indictment of US policy, I see much of militant Islamic attitude in the actions of the Cardassians.

Here is the aspect many overlook. When the episode opens, Picard is drugged and interrogated. He is so out of it and completely under Cardassian control, they perform surgery on him to insert a pain inducing device in his chest. He has no ability to resist, so he has told them everything he possibly can about Federation defense plans before he is ever subjected to torture. In other words, there is no strategic point to his torture. Madred pays lip service to wanting further information about defense plans, but that is not what the continued torture is about.

It is a culture clash. Picard represents the Federation; idealistic, peaceful, but they will fight when it has to, including doing some shady stuff, for the greater god. Madred represents the Cardassians: a militaristic society that has sacrificed everything that once was good about it in the name of an empty belief system. Madred resents the arrogant Picard for failing to recognize his power while failing to realize his power is nothing more than the ability to brutalize. There is no value to anything Picard can reveal under torture. There is just the satisfaction of breaking him, which would, in Madred’s mind, declare his viewpoint superior.

Do not get me wrong. The episode is clearly a treatise against torture and a very effective one at that. At the close of the first act, Picard is stripped of everything from his dignity to his humanity before the methodical torture even begins. It only worsens from there. It is not a comfortable thing to see. The world seemed like a much darker place the first time I saw the credits roll years ago. But anyone who sees only a critique of US policy in it these days is sadly missing out a more relevant meaning.

I do not see any equivocation here, either. The Federation is clearly the good guys while the Cardassians are the bad, even with Jellico acting as irresponsibly as he does. Or, for that matter, that Madrded is acting out repressed anger from his orphaned, abusive childhood even though he was presumably orphaned in the war with the Federation.

(It is not clear how many wars and opponents the Cardassians have fought, but it is presumably a long sequence.)

The conflict is not a failure of two equally moral parties to reach an agreement. It is Madred attempting to change picard’sway of thinking into seeing five lights instead of four, just like Winston being tortured into saying 2 + 2 = 5 in George Orwell’s 1984. It almost works, which isa warning to be ever vigilant about propaganda in the real world.

Beyond the deeper meaning, the actors make this episode. The bulk of the story is Picard, dehydrated, nearly naked, and in pain interacting with Madred. Just the two of them in a dark, sparsely furnished room. Yet they do so much with so little. How Patrick Stewart was not bombarded with awards for his performance is beyond me. The same goes for David Warner, who so often brings a regal feel to even his most menacing of characters.

The scenes on the Enterprise serve as little more than to give us a breather from the Picard v. Madred story. I am not going to count off for that when I awardstars, but Jellico is such a hothead stereotype who creates such pointless conflict just for thesake of doing it that he is impossible to take seriously. Does anyone really think, as Jellico does, Riker is a bad first officer? We do not assume for a second Riker’s assessment of Jellico as a Col. Kurtz level controlling maniac is wrong. So why should we care about his success against the Cardassians? He is nearly as much the villain as Madred.

Since both were practicing forms of control, I assume that was the intention. The dichotomy between the two stories makes the episode uneven, but the main story is more than enough to carry it.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Chain of Command, Part I"

Many fans cite the “Chain of Command” story as the first real evidence gene Roddenberry’s influence was no longer felt on the show. Starfleet personnel on a covert, black ops mission? Perish the thought. I think that is a bit short sighted. As far back as ‘The Enterprise Incident,” Starfleet has been involved in some shady dealings in order to keep the peace. Not that I blast the idea. Idealism can only go so far in a universe where not everyone shares your idealism.

I will give some credit to those fans’ observation. There is definitely a darker feel to this and particularly the next episode. Consider them a preview of sorts for DS9. Not just because the episodes set the sadistic, militaristic tone the Cardassians will hold throughout DS9, but the general tragic feel when the idealistic Federation finally runs into enemies who do not play by the rules.

The Cardassians have appeared in two previous episodes in which glaring mistakes wrre made by the Federation in general and Picard in particular. The Cardassians destroyed a Federation colony with impunity in “Ensign Ro” and Picard refused to board a Cardassian ship obviously loaded with weapons in preparation for an eventual invasion in “The Wounded.” I found that to demonstrate a profound weakness on the Federation’s part. You just cannot let stuff like that go when dealing with your enemies. Hence, there is a lot a reaping what has been sown here.

I suspect the powers that be knew that, too, so they made the new character of Jellico such a gung ho warrior he would turn off viewers to the prospect of the federation defending itself. Ronny Cox specializes in playing such unappealing characters, from Robocop on up through Stargate SG-1. He has made acareer out of it. I agree, too, that if I wan on the verge of war, I would not want someone as reckless as Jellico handling the last ditch negotiations.

You cannot dismiss the idea the Federation was itching for war, with acovert mission and negotiations occurring at the same time. I suspect it was a convenient way of ratcheting up tension for DS9’s premiere in a couple months.

The build up is straightforward. Picard is relieved of command and sent on acovertmission with Worf and Crusher to destroy a biological weapon. Picard was chosen because of his previously unknown and hereafter never mentioned again experience with theta band waves. It must be something special for them to send the 64 year old (Class of ‘27) captain of the flagship on a covert operation to a hostile planet.

Because tensions are on the rise with the Cardassians, Jellico is made captain instead of Riker temporarily taking command. I have already discussed in recklessness with the Cardassians, but he demonstrates no appealing characteristics whatsoever. He has everyone wound tight to the poit mistakes are inevitable in a tense situation. He is even a control freak right down to ordering Troi to wear a standard uniform. I cannot complain about that one. She looks better in one. His clashes with the crew will not fully blow up until next episode.

The covert operation is a trap to lure Picard and it works. He is captured in the standards, dark caves trek uses half a dozen times a season in every show but TOS. Worf and Crusher escape, but we all know by now Picard’s brutal fate.

There is not a whole lot to say about part one. It is a lot of set up for the conclusion, which is packed with all sorts of interesting stuff. It is a tense, unusually somber episode, and a nice change of pace. It is well worth watching if you are not too squeamish to sit through the concluding episode.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "The Quality of Life"

“The quality of Life’ is a continuation of sorts of the themes from the second season’s ’The Measure of a Man.” In that episode, data’s sentience is put on trial. If he loses, he gets dismantled and studied. Data ultimately wins the case when it is decided the soul--the spark of life--is indeterminable. The result is data is considered more than a machine by default.

I liked “The Measure of a Man,” mostly because it came down on the proper side of Sandra Day O’Connor’s horribly existential decision up holding abortion rights in Casey years before the case appeared before the United states Supreme Court. I elaborated on the issues in my review for the episode if you are curious.

Subsequently, the issue of Data’s legal status has been muddled further. He has had his “daughter,” Lal, nearly taken away, been ironically threatened with disassembly after apparently conspiring in “Clues,” and had his head knocked in old San Francisco. All points have served to reinforce his artificialness and the fact everyone recognizes it.

It seems odd for Data to now take up the issue on behalf of machines far less advanced than him, but that is what he feels compelled to do here. Exocomps are tiny machines programmed to make repairs in hazardous or otherwise hard to get to environments. They are considered expendable until, through experiments, data determines they are capable of learning. They also possess a sense of self-preservation.

Data does not make a very compelling argument. It is pointed out there is a world of difference between him and the exocomps, so his sentience is not comparable. He responds by saying there is a word of difference between a human and a virus, but both are alive. Yes, but al but the most devout of pacifist eastern philosophy adherents advocate taking antibiotics to kill viruses. They are not considered valuable, so drawing a comparison between them and exocomps is not helping their case.

It most certainly does not. When a crisis arises, the exocomps ability of self-determination is switched off so they will make repairs which mean certain death. Data locks out transport control in order to save them. His ethical program does not allow one species to die in order to save another. Cast aside for a moment that contradicts some of data’s past actions, he is willing to let Picard among others die in order to spare the exocomps. You would think data would be capable of better value judgments.

There is a compromise. The exocomps’ self-determination is switched back on. They are asked to willingly sacrifice themselves. Instead, they come up with another plan that works, although one does have to sacrifice himself so everyone can besaved. It is enough to convince everyone exocompsare valuable lives.

“The Quality of Life” is not as good as “The Measure of a Man.” A far less convincing argument is made for exocomps’ sentience than data’s. I am certain it all comes down to personality. The exocomps are certainly higher than the ship’s computer, but if the best Data can do is compare them to viruses, I have a tough time being sympathetic. Still, it is not a bad episode. Data’s learning curve is a bit forced, but at least his character is getting some growth. Most of the others are not.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "A Fistful of Datas"

I have a fondness for spaghetti westerns, though I prefer The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and Hang ’em High to A Fist Full of Dollars, so this episode is good enough to overlook the heavy involvement of Alexander and Troi. Oh, and Data as an extremely homely female bartender.

Worf and Alexander are apparently getting along much better now than they were the last time they were the focus of an episode. Interestingly, Lwaxana Troi was influencing Alexander to become an amoral Epicurean that time around while it is Deanna Troi who is bounding with him here by playing in his holodeck fantasy. The three take part in a Deadwood, South Dakota simulation, sans Ian McShane and the ’f’ word ever fifteen seconds. The former might have enhanced things.

In what should come as no surprise, there is a computer malfunction dumping all of Data’s stuff throughout the ship. Riker gets a load of the android’s poetry on his handheld while every computer character in the holodeck develop the appearance and abilities of Data. In spite of that making them deadly, I still think the poetry is the most lethal.

The simulation runs through a number of western cliche up until the show down between Worf and Data in an homage to Rio Bravo. Worf manages to shoot the gun out of Data’s hand, saving the day before la Forge shuts the malfunctioning program. Worf misses out on a smooch from the homely bartender. Sucks to be him.

The Enterprise literally rides off into the sunset.

I liked this one quite a bit even if conventional wisdom says I would not. I am not a fan of Alexander, Troi, holodeck episodes, or TNG Worf for that matter, but it all clicks here. I always enjoy it when Data cuts loose. It reminds me of just how powerful he is. Oftentimes, he seems far more limited in his regular duties. Does his ethical program hold him back that much? He has the potential to be a far more formidable force to be reckoned with.

On the production side, this was the first episode written by RobertHewitt Wolfe. He would go on to write many good episodes for DS9. He is probably why I do not mind Worf here. The episode was directed by Patrick Stewart. It does sound more peculair for a Brit to direct a western than the Italian Sergio Leone, no?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Rascals"

Remember our maxim Trek never does children well? “Rascals” stretches the proposition to the breaking point by converting a number of main characters into children just in time to save the ship from the Ferengi.

Call me crazy, but I have a soft spot for it. I have to throw all logic out the window to enjoy, but I can do so, if for just this once. Seriously--why are Picard and Guinan on an away mission to gather botanical specimens? I can sort of see Picard being boringly curious enough to want to go, but Guinnan is forced in the picture just so she can be a voice of reason when Picard, Keiko, Ro, and her all become kids. Why do their clothes shrink to kids’ size when they de-age, too/ very convenient, as is the unexplained anomaly that causes the accident in the first place.

But forget all that. Even forget the Enterprise being taken over by Ferengi. It is the character moments that make the episode, particularly for Picard and Ro “Rascals” came at just the right time for both.

Many fans think the moment Picard considers staying as a young man, going back to the Academy, and living his life again reveals a certain world-weariness on his part. Maybe he is tired of the responsibilities of being captain. I have never considered that a significant part of the story. In fact, what I see is a softened Picard. I will not go as far as to say he haas grown fond of children, but he does demonstrate a sympathy forthem and how they operate here. Just a couple seasons ago, it would have been aforced laugh to watch him pitch a tantrum as a child or hug his ’father” Riker. It is genuinely funny here post “Family,” “Suddenly Human,” and ’The Inner Light” where he has learned to not beso stiff.

“Rascals” is the first time I have ever been sympathetic to Ro. Yes, I know. She grew up in a refugee camp and saw her father tortured to death in front of her. Plus, no one other than Guinan even pretends to like her. My heart is two sizes too small, okay? Ro gets a chance to be a kid really for the first time. It is poignant. This is the last time she appears until the penultimate episode, “Preemptive Strike,” so she ends her run on a high note.

A couple other points. The episode was directed by Adam Nimoy, son of Leonard Nimoy. Fun bit of continuity there. This is also the last episode chronologically to feature Miles and Keiko O’Brien before they moved over to DS9. Ro was also supposed to join thecast, but Michelle Forbes turned the job down. Thank goodness she did, because Nana Visitor’s Kira Nerys was created to replace her. Much better character, no?

Rating: *** (out of 5)