Sunday, January 17, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation Follow Up

The last six months have offered a chance to view TNG in its entirety for the first time in years. This has also been the first time I have looked at the show with an eye towards tearing it apart to see what makes it tick. Some of my notions were confirmed while I changed on others. It pays to sum up my thoughts on the series as a whole before moving on to something else.

The series definitely ran along the trend of stagnating the first couple seasons, rising from the third through most of the sixth, and crashing in the seventh. But why is that? Right off the bat, I see the early couple seasons as an attempt to copy the feel of TOS without modernizing it or featuring charming characters. As good as TOS is, many of its themes have not aged well. It seems downright silly now for Kirk and Spock to battle pure evil alongside Abraham Lincoln, so why have the TNG crew battling alien warthogs dressed in 18th century French military uniforms? Perhaps it is a matter of not knowing it is a mistake until you do it, but it is elements like that which make one marvel how the show survived its early years.

Likewise, the characters were bland and dull in the early going. Gene Roddenerry had no interest in character development, which meant no emotional connections between them and therefore no conflict. The plots had to drive the story. That can work, but it is not going to fire on all cylinders, particularly when so much of thee plot hinges on the audience holding the correct opinions on humanism, socialism, pacifism, and the like. I have never shared Roddenberry’s utopian socialist vision of the future, so I stumbled through the obnoxious years before Michael Piller arrived.

When Piller took over in the third season, Roddenberry’s involvement became limited to cashing the checks and complaining, often anonymously, to the press about the direction the show was taking. It is also the time TNG started to become the show I remember fondly. I think TNG began elevating to pop culture status under Piller’s watch. Even people who do not watch the show are as familiar with Picard as they are with Kirk. Other Trek shows have remained well known in science fiction circles, but not much beyond that realm.

Not that TNG completely abandoned the trappings of Roddenberry’s vision after the mass exodus of the writing staff prior to the third season. There was still largely the na├»ve notion moral principles never had to be comprised when dealing with an immoral enemy. Romantic relationships were shallow and often based solely on sex. Religion was nonsense. Aliens never knew the proper way of acting until humans came along to lecture them on the subject. For this reason, I think Worf was the most unnecessary abused character. He never reached his potential until DS9.

I will admit the situation got better on all counts as the show progressed, but it clearly ran out of steam by the seventh seasons. Consider that DS9,a show which was not as burdened by Roddenberry’s philosophy, was in full swing at the time while VOY, a show which embraced unquestionably the worst aspects of Roddenberry’s philosophy, was in development, and you can figure out why the show peteed out. No matter what kind of message a writer wanted to put into a Trek show, there was a better venue for it now than TNG. It was best the show ended when it did. I think he may have even overstayed its welcome by a season, but, by and large, it went out an top with fans wanting more. That is the way you want to go.

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "All Good Things.."

After six long months and 176 reviews, we have reached the final episode of TNG. “All Good Things…” is significant for several reasons beyond capping off the longest run of an American science fiction series until that time. First, it set the seven season precedent for modern Trek series which only ENT could not manage. Second, it earned TNG an Outstanding Drama Series Emmy nomination, something enormously rare for a syndicated series period, much less a science fiction show. Finally, it won the 1996 Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation. It remains only the second Trek episode to do so.

Throw stones at me if you must, but I am certain the latter two were honoring the series’ accomplishments a whole. The Emmy nod most certainly, but I just do not feel as though “All Good Things…” merits much of the high praise it gets. Sentimentality appears to make it better than it actually is. Its competition was weak: The Mask, Interview with a Vampire, Stargate, and, ironically, Star Trek: Generations. We shall have to leave that one open to never ending debate whether the episode would have fared as well against stiffer competition or if the lifetime achievement aspect would have put it over the top regardless.

So why am I down on the episode overall? For one thing, I am not a fan of Q. ican appreciate how his appearance as the villain bookends the series, but his shtick has never resonated me. The writers never can seem to decide precisely what he is supposed to be; omnipotent judge of humanity, malevolent god, or an imp. He bounces between the three so often without any traces of the other two that none of them are believable.

the second problem is how storylines are abruptly dropped. There is a romance between Worf and Troi that bugs Riker so much, he has an axe to grind with Worf decades into the future. Picard and Crusher appear to be pursuing a romance themselves. Neither of those points is pursued again. You may think I am being unfair. “All Good Things..” is supposed to offer some finality with hope for the future all on its own without being mindful of the future movies or series. But it still has to be viewed in the big picture. These characters were going to hit the big screen in a few months in spite of the series ending. The status quo cannot end so abruptly when the story has not.

Finally, there are some glaring flaws. The concept of anti-time, which is to time what anti-matter is to matter, is some weird, meaningless techno babble one needs a diagram to decipher. Indeed, at one point, Data gets up in a long exposition and explains it all, which is the only time the plot is clarified, to both thecrew’s and audience’s bewilderment. Other odd aspects include data’s geey streak in his hair. It is supposed to make hi look aged and distinguished, but instead you wonder when PePe le pew is going to show up and make out with him. The Romolans are supposed to show up to investigate the anomaly that has shown up I the neutral zone, but they never do. I guess Andreas Katsulas had to get back to the Babylon 5 set in too big a hurry to film additional scenes.

Next is the glaring error no one caught until the episode aired. The anomaly is being in by a beam from a pilot episode era Enterprise and in the future and Crusher’s medical ship Pasteur in the future. Data picks up o this in the 24th century as they fire the same kind of beam, but notes the other beams are all coming from a version of the Enterprise. Some fans reconcile this by saying Data programmed the beam in all three time periods, so he is recognizing that, but cannot differentiate between another Enterprise and Pasteur. Whatever gets a Trekkie through the night. I think it is a careless mistake that perfectly exemplifies the thoughtlessness that runs through season seven.

Ah, but then there is the worst error. The trial of humanity from “Encounter at Farpoint” never ended. Humanity has been judged unfit, so Q is ordered to destroy them. However, Q’s relationship with humans--Picard in particular--has changed over the years to prompt Q to creatively interpret his orders in order to give Picard the tools needed to save mankind. Q allows Picard to bounce between time periods while keeping the knowledge he needs for each era to do their part simultaneously to destroy the anomaly.

Here is the deal with the anomaly: it grows backwards in time. In other words, it is caused by Picard’s ordering Data to beam the area in the fue, gts bigger the two instances of 24th century era, and has engulfed the entire quadrant at the dawn of creation. But…um…if it was created by future Picard after the Pasteur arrived and is growing bigger as one goes into the past, should it not have existed at the time the Pasteur got there? Yes, but it is not and its absence creates a plothole which undermines the etire episode. If something is created in the future and grows in reverse, it ought to have always been there.

So the story does not work too well. Like the Hugo voters, I still have a sense of sentimentality about the show. It is one of my all time favorites, so I want it to go out on a high note even if the final episode itself limps to the finish line. Aside from the plot holes, it is an exciting episodes where all the stops were pulled out. I particularly liked the direction. When the Picard of one era say, entered room, it seamlessly flowed into the Picard of another era following through. That was a small, but nice touch.

“All Good Thins..." is decent send off all things considered. It is certainly notan episode to shun, but I wish some of the plot problems had been cleared up before making this the finished product. The ending is a high note, but not as high as it could have been.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Preemptive Strike"

I have been ambivalent about the character of Ro. She was designed to bean edgy addition to the cast for the purpose of causing friction among the ‘perfect” cast. Her behavior and the reaction among her crewmates was so over the top it became a farce. I am not surprised Michelle Forbes not only left the show abruptly, but opted not to join DS9 as was planned. Good thing, too. The character of Kira was created instead. She was much, much better.

Like “Journey’s End,” “Preemptive Strike” is designed to set up plot devices for DS9 and VOY while revealing the fate of a lesser TNG character as justification for airing it in this series. It does reinforce the notion TNG is no longer the franchise’s main focus, but I have to say I like it better than “Journey’s End.” in spite of my ambivalence towards ro, she gets a good send off, especially compared to Wesley’s strange fate which no one around him acted with proper suspicion to.

Ro returns to the Enterprise after being promoted to lieutenant thanks to special training she was recommended for by Picard. She is eager to prove herself worthy of his trust, so she jumps at the chance to go undercover posing as a Maquis, the resistance group founded to battle Cardassians along the demilitarized zone bordering the Federation and the Cardassian Union.

I am curious why anyone thought she would be the best choice. Yes, Bajorans hate Cardassians, so she is believable. But given her personality, she would probably jump at the chance to join up in a cause she could get behind, especially when she feels a comraderie she has never had I her life. Add in a connection with a father figure like Macias, the Maquis leader and you have the perfect recipe for an emotionally damaged person like Ro to turn traitor.

Which is exactly what she does. Macias is killed in a Cardassian raid. Ro, fearing more bloodshed among her new friends, tries to convince Picard to call off a planned ambush on Maquis forces. When he refuses, she exposes the trap to the Maquis and officially joins up with them. Her only reret is betraying picard, which he takes hard.

I like this episode. It is not one of the best, but it does try to humanize Ro like no other has. She is not the stereotypical sullen emo here like she was in virtually every other appearance. Yet she is still the same character. Very few TNG characters grow personally in the way she did, so I have to call attention to it. I still think it is odd to consider her the perfect candidate for an undercover mission against enemies of Cardassia considering her rebellious history, but I am willing to overlook it.

The mai reason I will overlook it is because the TNG aspects of the story are an afterthought. The sole purpose here is to further the Maquis storyline to be fleshed out I DS9 and establish Native American, Vulcan, and Klingon members in order to justify Chacotay, Tuvok, and Torres on VOY. We never see or hear about Ro again as far as I can recall. It is obvious there was not much thought put into her send off, but what was there was good.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Emergence"

One of the main problems with season seven is how many episodes contain existential elements that are way far out there. We have already gotten through the worst of such offerings with “Phantasms” and “Masks.” “emergence” falls within the existential category and has some definite issues, but it has enough interesting elements to elevate it above its brethren ever so much.

One of those points which elevates the episode is in the teaser and only tangentially relevant to the plot. Data is rehearsing a scene from The Tempest in which Prospero is witnessing the end of his era and the beginning of the modern age. As he prepares for one last act of magic, he still looks hopefully for the future even though his place in it is uncertain. I though that was an apt allusion considering “Emergence” is the antepenulatiate episode of TNG. The characters have a future on the big screen even though the television show is ending, but no one knows how that is going. Thank the lord they never foresaw Star Trek: Nemesis or they might have called the whole thing off.

But, ah, the main plot. For no discernible reason, the Enterprise begins creating a neural net around itself similar to Data’s. the ship literally hasa mind of its own as it begins a journey at warp speed to seek out a special element to complete a project--giving birth to a new life form.

For no apparent reason other than drama near as I can tell, the holodeck runs continuously with characters symbolically representing aspects of the ship’s functions which are working together to create the life form. They exist solely to give the characters something to interact with since I cannot see how holodeck functions can effect the ship. I was puzzled by Moriarty’s ability to do that, too, so I am being consistent here even if the writers defy all logic.

I will admit it is amusing, though. Seven distinct holodeck programs rerunning at once, so a cowboy, gangsters and medieval knight are all traveling on a train together Yes, it sounds like the beginning f a bad joke. There is even what I think is an homage to Action Comics #1, the first appearance of Superman, i which Data lifts a 1930’s car to keep it from running over him. It is all weird, but fun.

What I do not like the episode is that no explanation is given for the ship’s sudden action. Data explains that a complex system can sometimes act in unexpected ways. He compares it to the human brain in which most functions can be explained by electrical impulses and chemical reactions, but consciousness itself cannot. Personally, I think such is the spark of life and do not want to think either the ship or Data possesses it. Your mileage may vary. Plus, I am bothered the crew is nonplussed about it. Would it not be worrisome a complex computer artificial system decides to go off and do its own thing at the risk of the crew’s lives/ or how about a Skynet situation? Hello, people. This could be worrisome, but no one cares. Reasonable, I suppose, since nothing like it ever happens again.

For all its strangeness, I liked “Emergence.” It is not one of the best, but it has enough redeeming qualities to make it enjoyable if you do not think about the details too much. it is not one of Joe Menosky's best high concept episodes, but i have already said he will not reach his heights until VOY.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Bloodlines"

Out of all the possible follow ups Tng could have had in the seventh season--the parasites who tried to take over Starfleet from the inside, the “Schisms” aliens, Sela--who in the world would the powers that be choose the feud between Bok and Picard? Not only does this episode bring up an old storyline no one remembers or cares about, bok’s revenge plot is absolutely absurd.

If you need a refresher, “Bloodlines” is a sequel of sorts to “The Battle,” a less than stellar first season installment which no one was clamoring to see a follow up to six years hence. In that episode, Bok returned Picard’s old ship, Stargazer to him with a mind control device that would compel him to take command and attack the far superior Enterprise, thereby assuring his death. The plot was in revenge for Bok’s son’s death, which he blamed on Picard.

“Bloodlines” also completes the unofficial fathers and sons twho are not actually fathers and sons trilogy of the last episodes. Wesley meets a vision of his father who is presumably Traveler in “Journey’s End,” Alexander bonds with his adult self as a surrogate father figure in “Firstborn,” and now Picard encounters theson he never knew he had who is not really his son. What all this says about the daddy issues suffered by the TNG writing staff is anyone’s guess.

The episode begins with the Enterprise encountering a probe with a holographic message from Bok that he has discovered Picard has a son and is going to kill him in revenge for his kid’s death. In shock, seeks out his kid to offer him protection. He discovers his son is Jason Vigo, a free spirited petty thief with a head full of hair. Nevertheless, no one is terribly suspicious of his origin.

Vigo, apparently still bitter about being defeated by the Ghostbusters in another lackluster sequel, is not interested in having a relationship with Picard, nor is he fond of being in protective custody. He shoos away the guards hovering over him at all times at one point, apparently with the intention of hiding symptoms of a medical condition which causes him to have tremors.

Bok kidnaps him successfully anyway. Through some techno babble means, Picard finds Bok’s ship and transports there. He has unraveled Bok’s plot. Vigo is not his son. His DNA has just been altered to appear that way, hence the tremors. I am inclined to think messing with someone’s DNA would be even more detrimental than that, but whatever. Picard rescues Vigo, Bok’s crew turns on him when they ealize this was notan ransom job, and Vigo, of course, promises to go straight because of the geat lesson he has learned. Since he was bargaining for his life with likely stolen loot, your guess isas good as mine what that lesson was. Heck he would probably improve his ability to make bigger scores if he allied with the Ferengi afterwards.

I am not a fan of “Bloodlines.” I do not think of Bok as Picard’s archenemy presumably the way the writers hoped I would. Perhaps if he had showed up some previous time post “The Battle” with a better revenge plot than randomly selecting some petty thief to pose as Picard’s son. It would have been much better for Bok to have selected someone Picard would have liked--a brilliant archeologist, an artsy fartsy type, or some sort of diplomat. Someone more like Picard so they could have bonded. Killing him would have been painful and better revenge than some surly thug guaranteeing a mutual dislike. We have already seen Picard bond with a son in “The Inner Light.” We have seen how that resonates. Why go the polar opposite route here? It makes no sense.

In some ways, the Picard/Vigo relationship reminds me of a cheaper version of Kirk/David Marcus, too. Their relationship had its own similar troubles which I will deal with when we get to it, but “Bloodlines” proves it has not learned anything from the previous captain’s strained father/son relationship turned revenge plot.

“Bloodlines” is further proof, as if you needed it, that TNG is petering towards its end.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Firstborn"

I have made no secret I am no fan of Alexander. While not being adverse to showing a domesticated side of Worf, I am inclined to think it would have been better for K’Elehr to have survived and become his wife. Her half human side would have provided interesting tension she could have also played a more active secondary role as a spouse than Keiko O’Brien because of her Klingon prowess. This idea was shifted to VOY for Torres and Paris for what I consider lesser results than would have happened with a pairing on TNG, but that is open to debate. Worf never got his Donna Reed/Xena Warrior Princess hybrid. What he got was a whiny runt with an attitude problem.

I cut Alexander’s attitude problem as much slack as possible. His relationship with worf has been poorly done from his debut, mostly because of Worf’s awful parenting skills. Think about it. Alexander’s mother is killed, so he is left with a father he does not know. Worf is not keen on the kid living with him even though the ship has plenty of officers with children living with them. He sends Alexander to earth to live with his aging human foster parents. He ought to empathize with how awkward it is going to be for Alexander to be thinly Klingon child on earth, but Worf is so eager to get rid of him, he gives that no thought. When the foster parents say they cannot handle him, worf opts to send him off to boarding school in the Empire wherehe will be eaten alive by the other, certainly tougher kids. It is only then worf realizes what a jerk he isand lets Alexander stay with him.

But things never much improve. Outside of “A Fistful of Datas,” the two appear to be nothing but contemptuous of one another. It is more than just youthful rebellion. Alexander has emotional problems with his life which are never addressed, which is ironic considering he pals around with Troi. Worf…well, he is just plain incompetent as a father. No surprise. Everyone has daddy issues on this show. Even Data. Seriously, o’Brien was the only character in a stable, happy romantic relationship and the only one not completely inept when it comes to kids.

All that to say “Firstborn” makes some effort to redeem Worf. Does it work? I suppose it does about as well as can be expected. An ill conceived relationship cannot logically have a stellar resolution and still be ideal.

Worf decides Alexander needs to get in touch with his Klingon heritage. His intentions are good here. Train up a child in the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6) Giving a child something to believe in teaches discipline, focus, and character. Naturally, Alexander does not want to learn anything about being a warrior because he isawuss. A frustrated Worf whines to Picard, who suggests taking alexandrite a Klingon festival so experiencing his culture will befun. Leave it to trek for a human to haveto lecture Worf on even a simple concept like making learning fun. Stupid, filthy alien. Will he ever embrace enlightened humanism?

The pla goes well for a while until the two are attacked at the festival by some thugs. Another Klingon pops out of nowhere to fight them off. He claims to be a distant relative name K’Mtar. Worf and Alexander buy the explanation without question and bring him aboard the Enterprise. It must be comforting to knowthechief of security is that gullible.

K’Mtar sets out to train Alexander to be a warrior. Worf kinda sorta goes along with it, but K’Mtar loses patience with Worf’s parenting skills and threatens to use some archaic Klingon law to take custody. Alexander intrudes on their argument to point out he is part human and is not looking forward to getting poked in the butt with a pain stick at various celebratory times in his life. Both Worf and K’Mtar ignore the idea Alexander is part human. Considering humans’ snotty attitude towards aliens, who can blame them?

In frustration, K’Matar decides to kill Alexander in his sleep. Tough Klingon warrior he is, no? He and Worf scuffle until K’Mtar reveals he is Alexander from the future. Worf is going to be killed at some pint because Alexander is a peacenik wuss. He came back in time to train himself to be warrior. He faked the battle with those thugs--hello, Brett maverick--and framed the Duras sisters for the assassination attempt, which was the B- story that even Quark could not make interesting.

Worf believes him. Gullible, naturally. He then tells his future son it is okay if he gets killed in the future as long as Alexander is happy with the klingon equivalent of love beads and bongo music. He never asks for any specifics about his death, nor is it ever clarified why Alexander does not just travel back in time to save Worf right before he is killed. I suppose he is motivated to change himself as a child out of a sense of self-loathing, but his plan just is not as logical as saving worf himself.

Meh, whatever. The episode is mediocre. There are not enough explanations offered about time travel and Worf’s potential death to be satisfying. The Duras sisters are wasted here. It is my least favorite of their Trek appearances and I am not terribly fond of them regardless. There was no point in Quark showing up except to emphasize Ds9 ascendancy over TNG. “Firstborn” is as ill conceived as Alexander is, but it is about the best we could expect

The episode can only be redeemed by some apt Johnny Cash:

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Journey's End"

All of those among you who are upset at my constant Wesley hate should rejoice. This will be the last time I take pot shots at the Jar Jar Binks of Star Trek. Wil Wheaton makes cameo in Star Trek: Nemesis but there is so much other bad stuff in that film, to critique his presence in it would be overkill. So for better or for worse, this review holds the last mention of Wesley.

I say for better or for worse because “Journey’s End” is not much of a send off for the character. I will admit to that and I am not even a fan. The story itself is aimless. There is some attempt at commentary over the poor treatment Native Americans have received while being forced off their land, but it is difficult to take any lesson away from it. Even the trek moral lesson of last resort--the most progressive position is always right--cannot be discerned. To be blunt, the story serves to create the Maquis for DS9 and VOY with little else to justify its existence. If you needed proof TNG has become the redheaded stepchild of trek by this point, “Journey’s End” is it.

The episode occurs shortly after a finalized peace treaty has been hammered out with the Cardassians. As part of the treaty, the federation has agreed to cede a number of planets it took during thewar back to the Cardassians. The Cardassians want everyone currently living on those planets to leave immediately. The Enterprise is charged with removing a group of Native American settlers off one world.

Think about that. The details of the Federation-Cardassian War (s?) are sketchy. As the question mark indicates, it is not even clear there has been only one of them. During the war, the federation took a number of Cardassian planets, presumably for their strategic value since there appear to have never been any Cardassian settlements at least on the one in question here. Why would the Federation forcibly take, keep, and then allow citizens to settle on such a planet/ that cannot be a Federation ideal. Also ask yourself why a group of Native Americans would leave Earth to set up a home on such a planet? There had to be a wiser choice elsewhere.

The only answer I can come up with is contrived ignorance which can be interpreted as insulting to Native Americans. They are adamant about staying, presumably because this is the only place they feel welcomed. It is as though they are saying no other planet will allow them to live freely indulging in their culture. Fair enough. That is an expected progessive, politically correct notion about the plight of Native Americans. But…they are refusing to leave land that is not theirs anymore. The shoe is on the other foot now.

If the writers had explored that juxtaposition, it would have been risky, probably interesting, but highly politically incorrect. Which is probably why we get next to nothing. I honestly do not believe the juxtaposition was even intended because the head of the tribe claims one of Picard’s ancestors took part in a massacre called the pueblo Revolt, which is a true historical event in the 1600’s. the tribal leader thinks Picard must not force them to leave now as a way of making up for his ancestor’s part in the massacre. So what we have is white man’s guilt for a historical incident he had no part in.

Ah, there is that proper political correctness. Definitely needs to be there, even if it does not logically fit the facts we have so far.

Now is the time to bring Wesley into the story. He returns to the Enterprise from a vacation from Starfleet Academy. He is grouchy and depressed, much to the surprise of everyone. Surely someone who had just covered up his role in an accident that killed one of his friends, had another one of his classmate coconspirators graduate ahead of him even though they werein the same class, be up for a promotion, and then be killeda couple episodes back would-be happy go lucky fellow. But that is not how it goes. Weirdo.

He learns about thecrew’s current mission and that Picard plans to secretly beam everyone off the planet--a move which he did not want to do I “Homeward” and disobeyed orders from Starfleet to prevent in Star Trek: Insurrection. Wesley warns the plaet’s inhabitants about Picard’s plan. When scolded by Picard, Wesley resigns Starfleet for the exact same reasons Picard will rebel in the latter movie.

(Yes, I know in both ’Homeward” and Insurrection, the Prime Directive applied but it is flimsy distinction. Either you think there are circumstances when people can be forcibly removed from their homes or you do not. It does not even matter which position you fall on, but a consistent rationale for decision would be nice. )

To make matters worse, Cardassians arrive to scout out the planet. As if the native Americans never saw that as a possibility, they decide to fight. Picard pledges to defend the planet’s population since they are still Federation citizens until removed. Tensions flare.

Meanwhile, Wesley meets a holy man who gives him a vision quest in which he seeshis dead father. Jack crusher tells his son his destiny lies elsewhere. When tensions on the planet turn to ared conflict, the holy man stops time in its track sand reveals himself to be the Traveler. Yes, a deux ex machina on top of everything else.

The Traveler explains to Wesley he has destiny to travel other planes of existence. This is not the first time he has said that and we have no proof he is right other than to take his word for it. oddly enough, everyone does. So Wesley, who has been acting bipolar and un-medicated, flies off with a stranger to other planes of existence with everyone’s blessing and not an ouce of suspicion. Obviously, they want to get rid of the little twerp badly.

Lest we forget, the Cardassians agree to back off for awhile, the Native Americans eventually forgo Federation citizenship in order to stay on the planet. Although the Cardassians were willing to kil them all a few minutes ago, they agree they can stay on the planet and will leave them alone. Uh…so why did the Cardassians want the planet in the first place? It does not matter. The planet will become a hotbed of reellion as number of Marquis emerge, including Chacotay from VOY.

There is not much else to say about “Journey’s End.” the story is aimless and dumb, serving only to act as an origin point for concepts spin off trek shows will use. The moral message is…what precisely? Even a Wesley hater like me thinks he got a raw deal. Heaven only know what the Traveler really wanted him for--not that anyone cares. If this episode does not prove TNG has run out of steam, nothing does.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Genesis"

Alternate title: “Brannon Braga Does Not Know Jack Squat About Evolution or Dramatic Storytelling.” For further confirmation of the former, see the VOY episode “Threshold.” For the latter, randomly choose any episode of ENT penned by him. Or you could just tread the rest of my review and take my word for it braga does not improve over time.

The episode begins in sickbay where Data’s cat has suddenly become a pregnant female, which has to be more traumatic than changes breeds like spot did between seasons. Riker is getting cactus needles pulled out of his back from where he was rolling around with some young, female officer. It is all part of the demeaning of the character which took place throughout the last quarter of the series. But the focus is on Barclay. Crusher has reawakened some genes in a mumbo jumbo solution to his current medical problem. The procedure will come back to haunt everyoe.

On the bridge, Worf is cocky about having retuned the photon torpedoes to better accuracy. Yes, he has managed an accomplishment neither data, la Forge, or a small army of Federation engineers have been able to do. Actually, he has not. Thetorpedo goes off course by a country mile. After needling worf in his own special way--stupid, filthy alien. Ought to embrace humanism--he decides to take data in a runabout and retrieve the torpedo. That is, assuming it has not smashed into an inhabited planet and killed hundreds of people like data almost did with the irradiated probe a couple episode ago.

Piccard and data are gone for two days. Herein one of the two biggest problems of the episode. While they are gone, we get to see the evolution of the crew taking place. So when the two return, there is no mystery. The audience ought to discover what has happened simultaneously with picard ad Data so we can feel their surprise. But that particular arrow has been removed from the quiver. Instead, we are left solely impressed with the make up jobs. Not to say seeing the crew as animals and cavemen does not pack a wallop. It is just not all it could have been.

The second problem is the bad science. Crusher’s procedure on Barkley reawakened dormant genes that would allow humans to evolve back into their ancestral creatures. If such genes were awakened in reality, they would be fatal.

But let us overlook that for a moment. First, Riker is the first to show signs of turning into something else, yet he becomes the most recent ancestor to man of everyone. It bugs me the first would evolve the least. Second, Barkley evolves into some kind of spider-like creature. Man did not evolve align the same line as spiders. Scientists theorize there is a tangential ancestor, but have no idea what it looked like. The guesswork involved ought to make you raise an eyebrow about evolution in general, but this Intelligent Design advocate disgress. Finally, note I keep saying “evolved” Picard and Datas communally say “devolved” throughout the episode. There is no such thing as devolving. Evolution is change, whether progressing or regressing. It makes no difference. Use the right word, Braga!

Data figures out a cure before picard turns into a lemur, but not before he electrocutes a prehistoric Worf--serves the filthy alien right--and a crewman is killed. Things go back to normal. Crusher is more worried about the annoyance of Barclay’s neuroses than the fact her cure lead to the death of a crewman. That is one cold woman. No wonder she likes Picard.

“Genesis” is pretty awful, from the episode title serving asa backhanded tweak at Intelligent Design advocates to missed opportunities at making more mystery out of the story to the absurd science. The make up is good and there are some genuinely scary moments. Barclay’s shocking first appearance can still make me jump. Gates McFadden needed to take herself out of the episode in order to direct, so she is scarred in the face horribly early on in a highly disturbing scene. But that stuff only adds a single star to this dud..

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Eye of the Beholder"

Recall back when I reviewed “Frame of Mind’ I said it was the beginning of a recurring trend in which the last act of an episode would reveal everything we have just seen in the previous four were not as they seemed. It is a risky method of storytelling because a bad ending can make you feel as though you have wasted your time completely whereas a occasional petering out of a story can still be salvaged somewhat by highlights from the rising action. “Eye of the Beholder” is all the former and one of the latter.

The story begins with crewman Daniel Kwan committing suicide by jumping into the plasma stream of the engines. No one knows why the normally happy go lucky fellow would end his own life. Picard puts Worf and Troi in charge of the investigation hoping they can find some answers for Kwan’s family. We arrive at our first problem--there is no reason the ship’s counselor should be part of this kind of investigation. Helping family and friends cope with the loss, sure. But not gathering clues. Her presence is a total contrivance as will become obvious by the end.

The two of them do their thing, but it really goes nowhere, so logically, Worf and Troi wind up sleeping together. Because that is what detectives do when the investigation stalls. The next day, Worf seems to have regrets about the previous making of the beast with two backs and says he is going to assist a female ensign today rather than join troi in the investigation.

Troi is unusually suspicious after an encounter with a person of interest in the investigation, so she goes to ensigns quarters later and finds him massaging the ensigns tonsils. In a jealous rage--hello!--she shoots and kills Worf. Panicked, she runs to the same plasma stream as Kwan in order to kill herself, too.,

She is stopped immediately by Worf.. Then we learn, in the dumbest way imaginable, it was all a hallucination. Both Kwan and Troi, as telepaths (Yes, Kwan’s a telepath. Would have been nice to know before now, writers.) caught psychic glimpses of a lover’s spat, murder, and suicide. Kwan jumped before anyone could save him from his pointless death. All this is explained in the final three minutes by Troi. It is like the writer stepped into frame to say, ‘Okay, I did a poor job. Let me explain what you just saw.”

The only good part of the episode is the look on Picard’s face as Troi is explaining what happened. It is almost as if Patrick Stewart himself is saying he knows this all ridiculous, too. It is a bad episode all around.

Rating: * (ut of 5)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Masks"

I have covered 168 episodes over TNG since July. In that time, there have been some good and some bad. There has been a lot of weird, existential stuff. But no matter how strange things have occasionally gotten up unto now, nothing even comes close to “Masks.”

It is written by technology journalist Joe Menosky, so you can already draw the assumption it is high concept. I like Menosky’s style. His imagination is on often on a level the suits who control production usually try to beat down out of fear of confusing the audience. As much as I enjoy those who think outside the box, he loses me quite often, too, particularly with his TNG episodes. I am not certain if he matured as awriter or as just more constrained by producers, but his work on Ds9 and VOY resonated much more for me. He wisely avoided ENT. Wish I did, too.

The most fascinating part of the episode is that every scene is more mind bogglingly peculiar than the last. The story starts out normal. The Enterprise discovers a rogue comet that is not on any map. The crew scans it to eventually reveal it is not a comet, but a traveling archive 87 million years old. It has gathered space dust and such in its long travels. The archive begins automatically downloading information into the ship’s computer. Picard, feeling he has an obligation to learn what the archive hasto offer, allows it as long as the ship is not in any danger.

The archive also connects with Data, subtly at first, so that he can read symbols it is downloading into the computer. Eventually, the archive begins using the replicators to create relics from the civilization that created it. Troi is the first to find one. She speculates it is from a secret admirer. She is obviously hard up for love, because it does not bother her some stranger entered her locked quarters and left a obelisk in her living room.

The archive begins downloading the memories of people into Data, causing him to suffer from multiple personality disorder. The first is Ihat, someone who makes Liberace look macho in comparison. Ihat was an escaped sacrifice for the sun goddess Masaka, who he both hates and has a begrudging respect. Hesays Masaka will come for them all when she awakens.

Data is confined to quarters as he uncontrollably switches between personalities, including Ihat and Masaka’s father. If nothing else is appealing about “Masks,” Brent Spiner’s ability to convincingly shift between characters is fantastic. She steals the show.

As this is going on, the archive begin changing the ship into an ancient city bit by bit. The whole place becomes covered by swamps, rune stones, and even an aqueduct. Eventually, the ship is going to completely turn into the city. It is not made clear if there have bee any casualties or if their even if everyone would die if the ship completely converted. Thus far, everything has been created within the confines of the ship it is not clear there is any real danger other than losing the Enterprise, so the story lacks certain amount of tension

They cannot destroy the archive, so Picard surmises they should play along with the mythology to see where it leads. This in spite of the fact they know nothing of the mythology other than Masaka has a rival, the moon Korgano. Picard gets the symbol necessary to force the archive to create Masaka’s temple at the apparent loss of Ihat’s life. A huge part of the Enterprise becomes the Temple of Masaka.

As proof of how incredibly useless confining Data to quarters was, he becomes Masaka, simply walks out the door, and easily disposes of the two sentries standing guard. For some reason, it never occurred to anyone she would come as one of Data’s personalities. She takes her rightful place on the throne.

Picard has deciphered a couple symbols within the temple, even though he still knows nothing about them. Talented guy. He figures out Korgano is the moon god who can make the sun goddess disappear. The crew uses Korgano’s symbol to force thearchiveto create him even though that might just pu his personality into Data and they would be back to square one. Instead, it createsa mask similar yo the one Data is wearing.

In a move only Picard is arrogant enough to make, he puts on the mask and poses as Korgano. I must mention again--he is pretending to be part of a mythology he knows nothing about. But it works. Masaka goes to sleep and the ship returns to normal. So does Data. Why did that work? Your guess is as god as mine. I would suggest not thinking about it much or blood will come spluringt out your nose.

“Masks” is a hard episode to rate. Every Trek fan should watch it at least once. There is a 87 million year old floating library turning the Enterprise into an ancient city. Data becomes a flaming guy escaped living sacrifice until he dons a mask. Then he becomes a sun goddess until Picard puts on anther masks, becomes a god he knows nothing about, and convinces said goddess to go to sleep. Everything returns to normal when she does although it is never explained why. Spiner plays the heck out of all his characters, too.

But oter than that, nada. There is no real conflict here. The danger is left for the audience to assume. Has anyone been killed by these changes? Are parts of the ship uninhabitable now? Who knows? The characters do some things along the way just for the sake of furthering the plot. There is just no heart to it. “Masks” is like a car wreck that is horrible to look at, but you cannot turn away. You have to be high on mushrooms to really get it, methinks.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Thine Own Self"

“Thine Own Self” is a personal favorite. I even appreciate it in spite of Troi serving as the focus of the “B” story. The episode is a favorite for several reasons. It was written by Ronald D. Moore, who is my favorite Trek writer. The main focus is on data, who is my favorite character. But the most important reason is the clear homage to Frankenstein.

I am talking about Mary Shelley’s novel, not the Boris Karloff film. For the record, I think that is a cinematic masterpiece, too. The novel more overtly discusses the conflict between science and superstition than the latter. To me, the film comes across as more of a nature versus nurture conflict. The Frankenstein Monster is not a bad guy, but he has not not been taught well socially Well, that is a discussion for another time.

Data represents Frankenstein’s Monster here. He has lost his memory due to an accident while retrieving a radioactive probe on a planet with a development level similar to late medieval Europe. He wanders into a local village with amnesia. He is, unfortunately, carrying the radioactive probe in a case with him. Even he is unaware how dangerous that is. The caser foreshadows definite disaster because it is naturally leaking.

One other point I appreciate about the episode is the villagers’ beliefs are not an allegory for Christianity. You would expect that with the semi- 17th century European feel. Moore is a very rare bird among science fiction writers in his respectful treatment of religion. His religious characters are not one dimensional ignoramuses or evil bigots as the stereotype often goes. The villagers here areno exception. They are rational types. They just lack a certain level of knowledge which can sometimes force them to jump to panicked conclusions.

They assume Data is a ice man based on his strange appearance. They decide to name him Jayden. He moves in with Gavin and his daughter Gia while he recovers. He gets along splendidly for days until a few cracks in his relationship with the villagers start to show. He disputes the local teachers notion the world is made up of only four elements. She claims the people cannot trust his knowledge because of his amnesia.

.when an accident rips the skin off the side of data’s face, the villagers begin to fear him. They have no concept of a robot. Only Gavin and Gia remain close to him. They begin to fall in dueto radiation poisoning. Still without his memory, data begins researching their illness and concludes it is radiation poisoning. He devises a cure which works on Gavin and Gia, but he must give it to the rest of the village. They clearly will never cooperate, so he puts it in the town well. The villagers, fearing he has been poisoning them all, hunt him down and kill him. It is the only time you everget the impression they are pitchfork and torches types. Considering their level of knowledge, can you really blame them?

A few days later, an away team incognito finds Data’s graveand beams him uo to sickbay for repairs. I will admit being beamed directly out of a grave is kind of creepy, even for an android. He is repaired and revived, he remembers nothing of what he had done on the planet passed his accident. It is a good twist. Data is a concerned, helpful being even when he is not himself. I consider it a much needed contrast to the numerous times he has been taken over or otherwise controlled and done evil.

In the “B” story, Troi goes to a class reunion, realizes she has not amounted to anything, and decides she wants to become a bridge officer. She takes as her rationale her effective smacking down of Ro during “Disaster.” she destroys the Enterprise several types while taking the simulated exam on the holodeck and whines to Riker it isa no win situation. She learns that is not really true, but she may haveto sacrifice some lives to save many. In her final take, she orders the simulated La Forge to repair a conduit in an area flooded by lethal radiation. I am surprised she was not cold hearted enough to think of that in the first place. She was going to turn Navek over to the Tal Shiar for torture in “Face of the Enemy” solely because he would not lether boss him around.

“Thine Own Self’ isa good episode all around. Even Troi’s whiny, useless self does not bother me. Well, bragging to Data before he even gets of the sickbay bed that she is now his superior officer was kind of classless, but what do you expect from her?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Lower Decks"

“Lower Decks” is a doubly unique episode. First, the focus is an guest characters almost completely. Oftentimes, Trek not only relegates guests stars to second class citizens, they virtually never get to be the heroes. Second, with guests stars as the main focus, we get to see the main characters from their vantage point. We learn just how secretive the main crew is about all the major goings on over the last six and a half season. Virtually everyone outside Picard’s clique is on the outside looking in regarding most everything.

The story revolves around a group of ensigns as they fret over impending promotions and the odd happenings as the Enterprise patrols near the Cardassian border. The main focus is on Sito, the young Bajoran who was part of the cover up regarding a cadet’s death in “The First Duty,” as she tries to gain redemption for her misjudgment.

It does not appear to start out well. Picard chews her outat their first meeting for her involvement in the cover up, then tells her he has no idea how she was assigned to his ship. He makes it clear he is not happy she is. Sito does not know how to respond.

Later, she is selected by Worf for a special training exercise. She is blindfolded, then forced to defend herself against him. After three falls, she rips off the blindfold and protests this is an unfair fight. Worf is pleased. Making her come to that realization was the point of the exercise. Next time, he says she should stand up for herself faster.

This sequence is the only part of the episode I dislike. Call me cynical, but is it not better to teach her that life is not fair rather than say she should immediately whine if she is treated unfairly? She will potentially meet a thousand Starfleet officers who are going to give her a hard time. There will not be anything she can do but go along with it. The Romulans and Borg are not going to cut her any slack, either. The idea she is taught to protest unfair treatment rather than endure is absurd, but it is even more illogical coing from Worf. Klingons do not whine about fairness.

Nevertheless, Sito takes the lesson to heart. She confronts Picard to tell him he should judge her based on her performance on the ship, not by her past mistakes. Picard is pleased. He confesses he requested her assignment here in order to give her achance at redemption. She has proven she hasthe mettle to do so.

All this is building up to her taking on a dangerous mission. The strange goingson during the ship’s stay on the Cardassian border the ensigns had been on the periphery of is the arrival, deriefing, and eventual return of a Cardassian double agent.

Before I talk about Sito’s involvement, I have to mention how refreshing it is to see this scenario. I doubt Gene Roddenberry would ever have allowed Starfleet to be working with fifth columnists, even within their mortal enemies’ governments. But that is a realistic thing governments do in order to defend themselves against their enemies. You cannotbe so idealistic as to pretend such situations do not happen. Second, Dal is the first sympathetic Cardassian we have seen so far. All others have been either sadistic psychos or mustache twirling villains with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. It isbeyondtime they had an added dimension to them.

The plan is for dal to pretend to be a bounty hunter in a stolen Federation shuttlecraft to explain how he can be coming back from Federation space. To pull it off, he needs someone to pose as his quarry. As a Bajoran, Sito is perfect. When they are over the border, she will “escape” in a pod and be retrieved. The mission is so dangerous, Picard refuses to order her to accept. She volunteers, as it will be a perfect chance for redemption. Everyone, including Dal, laments risking the life of someone so young.

They should have. Her escape pod is destroyed by a Cardassian border patrol in what is the biggest kick in the gut on TNG as far as I am concerned. That is the mark of a great episode. Sito was a forgotten secondary character from two seasons ago who came off badly in her first and only previous appearance. Within three acts, she has completely redeemed herself and now we care about her death. The impact so resonated, a subsequently already written DS9 script which would reveal she was actually captured and imprisoned by Cardassians was scrapped in order to maintain the emotional punch. I am glad it was.

“Lower Decks” just edges out “Parallels” as the best episode of the seventh season. I would have given it five stars if not for the peculiar ’whine when you are being treated unfairly’ sequence which was nly there as a way to prompt her to confront Picard. It would have been better if she had found it within herself to do so without worf’s prodding. Otherwise a fantastic installment.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Sub Rosa"

It is funny “Sub Rosa” should come along here at the height of Twilight‘s popularity. Like the vampire teenie bopper flick, whether you liked “Sub Rosa” appears to depend exclusively on your gender. Women love, but men hate it.

Hate is strong word to describe my opinion. I do not have a big problem with any television show flirting with another genre of storytelling. It is a risky move, but I usually give as much leeway as possible for the brave act of going out on a limb in the first place. I think the only time I have completely panned such an effort was the final episode of Dallas in which J. R. Ewing met Satan. That one was so completely from out of left field, betraying all established logic, that I cannot imagine how anyone thought the idea was filmable.

Truth be told, trek grants a lot more room to explore other genres. Various episodes have fit well into love stories, submarine warfare stories, coming of age stories, etc. The gothic ghost story elements of “Sub Rosa” are not even that unusual. I am thinking “Catspaw” from Tos here, but trying not to think about it too hard. It was not a favorite.

Alas, neither is “Sub Rosa.” When I think gothic horror, I think Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, but not so much Anne Rice. That may be the root of my problem, but the silliness of a New Ireland in space and the creepiness of an 800 year old corporeal being essentially having continuous with nearly a thousand year’s worth of women from one family, from age of concept to old age, are too muh to get passed.

Gates McFadden has said this is her favorite episode of the season, so I will have to concede I am not in touch with my feminine side to appreciate what the fairer sex sees in it. Is there some big female fantasy to sleep with the same guy not only your grandmother has, but virtually all the women in your family since medieval times? There is no male equivalent that I know .

All that said, I cannot give “Sub Rosa” one star. I am still in the mindset of cutting slack for taking risks. The atmosphere of the episode is fantastic, even if Ireland in space is absurd. You have night, fog, and reanimated corpses. That deserves some credit for good faith effort. But no, it did not ring my bell.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Homeward"

“Homeward” is another lackluster entry in the largely mediocre seventh season. The episode may be generously considered a victim of circumstance for two reasons. One, its scheduling. It is a Worf-centric episode coming when the far superior “Parallels” is still fresh in viewers' minds. Why the powers that be did two uneven Worf stories separated by a single episode is beyond me. Two, the plot is similar to the superior Star Trek: Insurrection except the crew was on the opposite side of the moral conflict there. If you are following along at home, those are two death blows.

The episode is not centered around just Worf, but also his foster brother Nikolai, played by Paul Sorvino. Nikolai is a character we have never heard of before, so it is difficult to care about him. Worf describes him as an irresponsible type. He is idealistic, but reckless how he goes about saving the world. How he managed to get a job as a cultural observer on pre-warp societies is mind boggling. Surely enough, he violates the Prime Directive by saving the indigenous people of adoomed plaet by beaming them up to the Enterprise holodeck while promising to lead them to a new land. By doing so, he forces Picard to search for a new class M planet for them to live on.

To be fair, Picard is not happy with the idea of moving these people, even if it will save them, so he is not exactly eing a hypocrite compared to his disobeying orders to prevent a pre-warp society of people from being moved in Star Trek: Insurrection. But from a production stand point at least, you have to wonder why two such similar stories were done with the main characters pretty much flip flopping their positions on the issue without any explanation.

It gets worse as Nikolai convinces the people Worf is some kind of prophet. Worf has to explain certain holodeck malfunctions as a sign of the La Forge, thereby creating a false religion for them. So their society definitely gets contaminated. But that does not strike me as the worst point. After all Nikolai has messed up by taking these people unknowingly from their home and blackmailing thecrew into helping them while permanently altering their religious culture, but Worf, filthy alien that he is expresses regret the people would have died off if it had been up to him.

That is right. Nikolai is a liar, kidnapper, and blackmailer who impregnated one of the women to boot, but Worf thinks he should be more like his brother at times. You see, 24th century humans are superior to aliens even when they are completely dishonest and irresponsible.

The plan works. Nikolai decides to stay behind to rear his child and probably become a Col. Kurtz, so all is well that ends well, I guess. At least it mercifully ended for the viewers You will not miss much of anything by skipping ‘Homeward.” The idea has potential, but it is squandered on execution. Nikolai reminds me too much of Sybok to invest much interest in him. He is most certainly not someone Worf needs to act more like.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, January 4, 2010

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

“The Pegasus” is another mixed bag. All the tools are there to make it an interesting episode. The premise is based Raise the Titanic at a time period,just before James Cameron wowed audiences with his themed movie, but still in the midst of Bob Ballard’s squeezing out every ouce of public excitement over his exploration of the unsinkable ship. Add to it a mystery about the missing ship involving a main character and you should have a thrilling episode. Yet you do not.

The problem is the addition of TNG themes we have seen over and over. The two main problems are yet another corrupt and/or insane admiral and another crewmember coming out of trouble smelling like a rose even though he should not.

There is not much to say about the first issue. Loony Starfleet brass has been a staple since Tos even though dedicated fans wring the hands over pretty much exclusively over Ds9’s shadier admirals. The up side here is Adm. Eric Pressman is played by these cod Lost actor to show up this season, Terry O’ Quinn. O’ Quinn is a veteran character actor who has played an ends justifies the means character on shows as diverse as Millennium and The West Wing to Lost. There is a reason he keeps portraying such characters--he is fantastic at it. His talent earned him an Emmy for John Locke, who is, of course, my favorite character of his.

O’ Quinn is the highlight of the episode even if he is playing the umpteenth crooked admiral in Tng’s seven year run. It is too bad he could not have appeared earlier. Then he might have set thebar higher for the rest of the assorted alien controlled conspirators, android bashing, gung ho McCarthyites who apparently run Starfleet.

the second issue is more problematic. The moral conflict presented gives riker more desparately needed color and offers an explanation as to why he refuses promotion, although you have to dig into his psyche to get it.

Pressman was his first commanding officer. He decided Starfleet was giving up a huge tactical advantage by honoring a treaty to not use cloaking technology, so he decided to use a cloaking on the Pegasus. Some of the crew mutinied over the decision. Riker threw in his lot with Pressman, but has regretted his decision since then.

If you want to stretch it, you can speculate that guilt over keeping the mutiny a secret has subconsciously kept riker from accepting the promotion to captain all logic says he should havea long time ago. It is flimsy, but it is the best rationale ever offered. Were Starfleeta real military, riker would have been drummed out years ago for refusal to move up so they could make room for someone who would. So we need some kind of reasoning to grab unto.

But here is the added problem-he getsaway with it. Pressman is punished for his role, but not Riker. It makes no logical sense for him to mutiny with impunity, but I suppose it does within the confines of the show. Picard has been assimilated into the Borg Collective and killed 11,000 people with no consequences. Data has gone bonkers numerous occasions with impunity. La Forge disobeyed orders to look for his mother’s ship. Wesley’s bad decision lead to a friend’s death and as we will see, he gets rewarded with an extraordinary fate in spite of it. His mother is nearly court martialed for performing an autopsy on a Ferengi without permission, but nothing more comes of it. Worf got a slap on the wrist for killing Duras, but he is a filthy alien who requires constant moral guidance from more enlightened humans, so no surprise there. So riker mutinies in a cause that could have spark off a war with the Romulans, but everything is hunky-dory.

It pays to be an Enterprise crewmember. You can get away with just about anything, even if you area klingon.

As unfair as it is to judgeat this point, the episode is tainted in my mind by its new association with the final episode of ENT, “These are the Voyages.” Supposedly, Riker ducked into the holodeck to watch Trip Tucker make an allegedly fateful decision on Archer’s final mission in order to decide whether to admit to Picard they are out there looking for the Pegasus because it has an illegal cloaking device installed. I never saw the significance of tucker’s sacrifice to a bunch of mercenaries, so I do not buy the idea it would be important enough for riker to look into two hundred years later. Ike I said, it is an unfair knock against “The Pegasus,” but it is one.

Call this one watchable, but lamentable for its not fulfilling potential.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Parallels"

I am a sucker for alternate reality stories. My penchant comes from a misspent youth reading way too many comic books. Alternate reality is one concept trek does consistently well. Even “Year of Hell“ in VOY and “Twilight,” the ENT effort, were good. The latter was about the only good episode, in fact. “Parallels” is right behind “Yesterday’s Enterprise“ as the best TNG installments in the genre.

What really makes the episode is it is centered on Worf. I have often stated he was a much better character on DS9. I feel that way because TNG often made him out to be a brute who does little more than destroy everything he does not understand until some human comes along to correct him. He became a much more competent character in the seventh season, but did not reach full potential until he joined the more mature--there, I said it--DS9.

In “Parallels,” Worf gets to take part in a conflict involving theoretical physics. It is something you would more expect from Data or La Forge. Better still, as Worf shifts from reality to reality, he never loses his cool like he would have probably right up until the previous season. He also has to deal with more tender emotions. For the bulk of his travels through the different realities, he is married to Troi. They even have children at one point.

I will concede “Parallels” does introduce the beginning of the romantic between the two of them. Supposedly, the seeds were intentionally sown back in “Ethics” when Worf entrusted Alexander to Troi. The idea is repeated here when data fills Worf in on his marriage just I case you missed the subtlety. I did, but thank full I was beaten over the head with it here.

I am a ’shipper, so it did not really bother me the pair nearly hooked up. Opposites attract, so I do not even think it is all that unusual. What bugs me about it is how deep the emotions run here compared to how abruptly the romance is dropped without a single word. Troi frets that when the techno babble solution works, Worf will go back to his reality, but hers will not return. He realizes what an impact he can have on her and realizes there is a hole in himself she can fill. When he gets back to his proper reality, he opts to explore it. The real Troi appears willing. But then, nothing’. it is a let down after the start.

Yes, I know their brief romance is universally hated. Give me grief if you wish, but I am too ambivalent about the storyline to muster any animosity. I am glad the love affair was over by the time he joined DS9, if that is any consolation.

But to the matter at hand. The alternate realities have all the trappings; Cardassians in Starfleet, Picard died as Locutus, Wesley never left, Bajor is a brutal enemy, etc. wild, comic book’y stuff I am nostalgic for. The crew eventually determines there is a fissure in which all these realities converge and Worf flew through it in a shuttle. Sending him back through will set things right. Although a a version of the Enterprise from a reality overrun by the Borg tries to stop the shuttle to prevent it from returning to its own disastrous reality, it is casually destroyed, allowing the shuttle to precede. Kind of cold blooded, but I think it was supposed to be considered merciful. All returns to normal. No one thinks Worf’s explanation is odd. They take it at face value. Just another day at the office.

I liked “Parallels.” it is my second favorite of a season where there are not many good installments from which to choose. There are funny and sad moments, mostly involving Troi, and solid, if theoretical, science behind it. I do not get to praise Brannon Braga much, but he did a fine job here.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Inheritance"

I have always found “Inheritance” to be an odd episode. There are strange aspects that violate continuity and some rather creepy ones, too. All of it wrapped into a touchy feely message that seems out of place on a show with a well earned reputation for being emotionally shallow.

The Enterprise comes to the aid of a planet on the verge of a geological disaster. A preeminent geologist comes on board to assist, accompanied by his wife, Juliana Tainer. When she is alone with data, she asks if he remembers her. Even with his perfect memory, he does not. She was Noonian Soong’s wife at the time Data was built, making her his mother.

Tainer holds a secret which is slowly revealed through subtle clues scattered throughout the episode--she isan android, too. She just does not know it.

Once she is injured, Data retrieves chip from her head which holds a message from Soong. Juliana was mortally wounded. He could not bear to lose his wife, so he copied her thought patterns and put them in a perfect android body. The real Juliana died, so the android took her place. But she soon left because, since Soong never had expressed love for the real Juliana, the android did not think he cared for her and left.

If you can get passed the yuck factor of creating an android who thinks she is the real thing with all the obligations of a wife, the message is to always let your loved ones know you care for them while you can. One day it will be too late and you will spend the rest of your life knowing you took them for granted. Or you could just create an android copy and keep on going like nothing ever happened. You will look like a complete nut, but oh, well.

Soong’s message requests that Data not reveal Juliana’s true nature to her. He decides to honor Soong’s wishes. Juliana is sent back to her life thinking she as only knocked unconscious. Neither she, nor her husband are aware of the truth. How newither of them have or ever will figure it out--she does not age, for one--boggles the mind. But since I am still creeped out that Soong created her as a wife in the first place, I am too busy to worry about that bit of illogic.

We could have done without this episode. Its heart was in the right place, but its head was…you know where. Bonus points for a future Lost actress appearing. Juliana is played by Fionnula Flanagan, who will go on to play the mysterious Ms. Hawking/Isabella. She is better there than here. Rumor has it she was cast as Juliana solely for her violin playing skills.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Star Trek: The Next Generation-- "Force of Nature"

“Force of Nature” is likely the finest example of a well intentioned, but ill conceived concept in TNG. Brace yourself for a global warming allegory in which the activists win out early, everyone decides the demands made for change are too difficult, then the matter is abruptly dropped in all future Trek. In other words, my realist philosophy that even if global warming is manmade, no one is going to give up their relatively cheap way of doing things out of general principle, so what difference does it make?

The Enterprise encounters two scientists who claim the continued use of warp drive is tearing a hole in subspace. They have presented their case to Starfleet before, but were dismissed for lack of evidence. Now ships are disappearing inside a rift created by the continued use of warp drive. The Enterprise gets caught in it.

La Forge works with the pair in order to find a way to “coast” to freedom without using the warp engines. The true believer of the two scientists, Serova, sacrifices herself in the process. Her death turns out to be nothing more than martyrdom for the cause of proving warp drive is dangerous. By extension, her death is a commentary on the importance of acknowledging the damage man is allegedly causing the environment in the real world.

Based on the existence of the rift, Starfleet places new speed regulations on starships. The limits can only be violated under special order from an admiral. This is what I and the creative team, subsequently call ill conceived. It was well intentioned, though perhaps misguided, to place a permanent restriction in tTek as a constant reminder of environmental concerns. However, the matter was largely dropped with a few throwaway lines in DS9 and VOY because the restriction took away from the excitement of the series. What is Trek without the thrill of pushing the limits of apace travel? It did not work, so it was dropped the same way we will always buy cheap gas because alternate, safe power sources are not practical yet.

As if that was not bad enough, the side story involves Data attempting to train Spot but failing miserably the joke being cats area force of nature which are impossible to control. As a feline aficionado who has been owned by a cat for all but a few years of his life, I can attest to that, but it is still a weak tie in to the theme of the episode.

Obviously, I do not agree with the overall message of “Force of Nature.” I often do not with Trek, so I try to judge disagreeable episodes on the merits of what the creators were trying to say. Even then, this turns out to be a weak episode. Trek has all but ignored events established here. That is a sign we should, too.

Rating: ** (out of 5)