Sunday, July 31, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Coda"

“Coda" is the VOY version of an old Star Trek theme--kill off main characters temporarily and milk it for all its emotional worth before hitting the reset button. The minute you see jeri Taylor’s name as the author, you know the character who has died is Janeway. You also know the distraught crew is on the verge of mass suicide over the loss, because Janeway is awesome!

I have joked in the past Taylor is living vicariously through Janeway. Every Janeway-centric script she pens is one further quantum leap in the apotheosis of Janeway. In ’Coda,” Janeway might have finally succeeded. The ending strongly hints Janeway may have beaten Satan himself. Yeah, Janeway is awesome! Taylor pours it on so thick, she makes Janeway a parody of herself.

The episode begins exactly with what everyone has been clamoring--sexual innuendo with Neelix. Because, of course, everyone desires Janeway’s body. The reality is that Neelix is complimenting Janeway on her ballet performance at the previous night’s talent show. Sometimes I wonder if Neelix is the morale officer or a recreational therapist at a nursing home. The conversation is cloaked in double-speak that sounds like Janeway gave Neelix a world class lay before it is revealed she played The Dying Swan for the talent show. Not that the fourteen year old virgins watching could not conjure up images of a sex act called The dying Swan. Regardless, the scene comes across as a far too cute way of demonstrating the crew’s alleged emotional attachment to Janeway.

She and Chakotay take off in a shuttlecraft--again, the captain and first officer unwisely alone on a mission--when they become trapped in a time lopp. The loop repeats repeats three scenarios. One, the sshuttlecraft is shot down by vidiians who kill her. Two, the shuttlecraft is chased by Vidiians ships and she is killed. Three, the shuttlecraft escapes, but Janeway is diagnosed with the Phage by the Doctor and euthanized. The loop appears to end beforea fourth scenario in which the shuttlecraft crashes and Janeway dies of her injuries. The loop is broken because Janeway’s spirit emerges to witness her death and the crew’s reactions.

Before I go any further, what is the point of the time loop bit? The plot of the episode is that an alien is attempting to wear down Janeway’s resolve and get her to accept her own death so that it can ’feed’ off her. He needs her to enter a portal to what he calls the afterlife in order to do so. Killing her over and over again in rapid succession was working. She could barely adjust emotionally before being dragged into another horrible death. But then it stops completely for what, as far as the audience knows, is an authentic death which carries us through the rest of the episode. The final scenarion works the least. In fact, it builds up her resolve to resist and ultimately prevail. It is also the only scenario which allowed for a real story, so it had to be there. So why have the time loop happen at all/ Because it was succeeding in breaking Janeway down, the alien looks dumb for changing strategy even though drama demanded it do so. “Coda” should have had Janeway “die” once in the teaser and interact with the alien from the beginning.

I try to be as fair as possible when I really do not like an episode to accentuate the decent parts. In “Coda,” there is a heavily relied upon theme that everyone loves Janeway to the point of Brian’s Song melodrama. But before that seriously cranks up, the crew reasonably spends two days looking forJaneway’s spirit based on Kes’ intuition. It is this lengthy montage of events I find most reasonable about the episode. The rest? You have to be a huge Janeway fan. Or be Jeri Taylor. But I repear myself.

Janeway is present in spirit for all of this, listening in to crewmembers fawn over her in death as though she has the place bugged. I do mean fawn. The funeral sequence clocks in aat a shade over four minutes and involves Torres, Harry, and Chakotay literally cannot go on without her strength and leadership. Torres even forgives her for stranding them in the Delta Quadrant and admit’s the wisdom of doing so. Contrast this with Spock’s funeral in Star trek II: The Wrath of Khan., from the presenting of the casket to kirk’s eulogy, and landing on the Genesis planet, last two minutes and ten seconds. Janeway’s final farewell lasts nearly twice as long as the cultural icon Spock. Now that is ego.

Not just Taylor’s ego, but Janeway’s, too. The funeral sets up the alien, who has been posing as her long dead father, to finally convince her there is nothing left to do but let go. She refuses, and fights him off by sheer force of will. As she begins winning, the alien and the portal she is supposed to be entering for the afterlife take on demonic/hellish undertones, so that when Janeway ultimately defeats him to wake up fine next to the crashed shuttlecraft on the planet, she has maybe beaten the Devil for her soul. While that is left up in the air, one thing is not--the alien created these scenarios--the long funeral, her crew’s affection, etc--out of her mind. Further proof of how highly Janeway thinks of herself.

You have to be a big Janeway fan to like “Coda.” The Janeway/Chakotay shippers consider it a key episode in consideration of Chakotay’s emotional display throughout. He appears to have a serious thing for his captain. I think it is a below average effort with an overused plot device. There are logical flaws in the story structure I have already addressed, and the overly dramactic way the crew reacts to Janeway’s death is hilarious. That it all comes out of her head makes it pitifully delusional, too. I Am not a fan, but there is a certain amusement value in watching just to see high highly Janeway thinks of herself.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Alter Ego"

There are bad VOY episodes, and then there are VOY episodes that make you embarrassed to admit you watched them. Seriously, have you ever been in a theater watching a bad movie and sank in your seat? The feeling is hard to describe, but it mostly shame of association and the fear your association might encourage someone to make another movie just like it? That is what it feels like to watch a bad VOY episode. Worse, to write a fairly lengthy review may give off the impression it provokes a lot of thought. Ugh. Covering some episodes is a no win scenario, folks.

“Alter Ego” has three of VOY’s biggest stumbling blocks. One, it is a holodeck malfunction story. Two, it is a Hard Luck Harry story with added bonuses--he is in love, but gets dumped and forgotten in the first act. Finally, it is a Tuvok does not understand human emotions, yet knows better than everyone else by the end how to handle them story. If only Janeway had blown off the Prime Directive for the opposite reason she ignored the edict yesterday or killed someone with her bare hands, we could have added Janeway is Awesome and “Alter Ego” would have deserved some kind of special designation like the Golden Sombrero or something. Let us take the three factors in turn.

Why do you even need a holodeck for stories on a series revolving around explorers in outer space? That is a question which should apply to all Star Trek set in the 24th century, but particularly VOY. The series theme is the ship is lost in uncharted, supposedly more exotic than usual space. Show a little imagination. Ort logic, for that matter. So much of the contact with alien species is motivated by respelling drained energy sources. Why, if energy sources are a problem, are you wasting energy on a frivolous virtual reality game? The entire concept not only demonstrates lazy writing, but negates the idea the crew is really struggling to survive in any appreciable way.

Voyager has the added silly issue of running themes with holodeck programs that peter off. First, we had Janeway playing with her Victorian governess/ghost/love story thing that was tied into an episode solely so it could be dropped from the series. For a while, it was tom’s French bar--because tom’s last name is Paris and he once visited France, you see. Later, we will get that Irish town Fairhaven, but for now we are in the middle of the Polynesian Resort Era of holodeck stories. For this episode, that means being strangled with a lei whole crewmates fistfight with belly dancers and flaming torch bearing guys wearing Tiki masks. Do I need to say more? “Alter Ego” takes the holodeck malfunction story and kicks it down a notch. It is almost impressively incompetent.

Hard Luck Harry. I have never met Garret Wang, but I know people who have and I visited his Twitter page where upon he tweets about once every month or so when he is visiting a former member of the VOY cast. From what little I glean from those sources, Wang is playing himself on the series--a decent guy who is in over his head, but propped up by others, either out of friendship or pity. Behind the scenes circumstances will arrive at the beginning of the fourth season which will stymie a perhaps merciful departure for Wang because he will be named one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People --good looks have undeservedly launched/saved many a Hollywood career--so I am reluctant to say much now best explored for later. I will hit the specifics here.

Harry crosses over hard into Geordi La Forge territory in “Alter Ego” by falling in love with a holodeck character. Unlike la forge’s experience, Harry gets no real encouragement from the object of his affection, fake though holographic Leah Brahms’ was, gets dumped the first time she meets someone else (Tuvok), and has to seek out therapy because everyone on the ship recognizes what his behavior indicates he is feeling. They have not seen such immature behavior since junior high, but this is a show aimed at fourteen year old virgins. Expectations must be kept reasonable. But Hard Luck Harry is completely dismissed after the first act save for the closing scene with Tuvok. Yes, Hard Luck Harry’s luck is so hard, he is the catalyst for the story, but it is not his story. It is Tuvok’s. so VOY manages to take a hard Luck Harry story and kick it down a notch, too.

We are left with talking about took and his struggle with emotions. While I am only mildly amused at the effort of developing the character, I will recognize said attempt is the only redeeming factor to be found in “Alter Ego.” Unfortunately, that is not saying much. The story is a lot of fluff with a very weak ending the two characters involved, both supposedly highly rational beings, should have eliminated long before anything became a problem.

Voyager stops to study the dampening field around a nebula. It is a slow going, uneventful study, so crewmembers have been spending a lot of time in the Polynesian Resort. Harry has fallen in love with a girl named Marlayna. He cannot handle his feelings for a person who is not real, so he asks took to help him purge himself of the emotion.

Tuvok is a jerk. I have never noticed any dislike for Harry on his part in the past, but there is a definite irritation regarding Harry’s immaturity here. Tuvok, who is playing one of those Vulcan ubergames, dismisses Harry’s comparison of it to chess by saying the game is as much like chess as chess is to tic tac toe. Ouch. In spite of the rudeness, Harry still pours his heart out out his problem to which Tuvok condescendingly points out how every reaction Harry has to Marlayna is a junior high kid with puppy love’s actions. Ouch II, even harder.

Tuvok is ordered by Janeway to relax at a luau where he sees Marlayna playing the Vulcan game. He is intrigued. Harry tucks his tail and runs. We do not see Harry again until the end. Tuvok bonds with Marlayna over ideas and knowledge exchange--or so they think. What they really have is a mutual loneliness. This loneliness becomes evident when the ship attempts to leave the nebula are met with resistance from Marlayna, who has gained control of the ship’s systems via the holodeck. She demands took beams over to a space station hidden within the nebula, or she will destroy Voyager.

On the space station, Tuvok meets the real Marlayna. She is a brilliant woman who finds most people so boring, she volunteered to man this nebula alone so she would not have to deal with social interaction. She secretly studies ships that pass by the nebula. She was kinda hot for Harry a moment, but then she saw Tuvok and recognized a kindred spirit. She is right, in a lot of ways. Tuvok does not like involving himself with his human crewmates. He had to be ordered to go to the luau and while there, was the only one to wear his uniform and refuse a lei. He separates himself from others on purpose, too. But they both desire a companionship unavailable to them seemingly outside each other.

Nevertheless, Tuvok’s sense of duty compels him to use her emotions against her. If she really cares for him, she will want him to return to his ship in order to continue the journey home to his family. She agrees. He suggests she request a replacement for her job while she explores her need for companionship. She agrees to do this, too. The two depart on good terms.

Wait. What? Marlayna captures the ship, nearly kills three crewmembers, and threatens to kill the entire crew if took does not become her BFF all because she needs an extended vacation? One that presumably involves a gigolo. When this is pointed out to her, she agrees, and the episode is over? Except for some Tuvok patching up with Harry, yeah, pretty much. I suppose at the time, it meant more because it looked like Tuvok was going to take his own advice and develop a friendship with Harry. That did not happen, but I cannot judge events beyond episodes in question. Still, this was one luau I could have happily skipped.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Fair Trade"

While I have criticized many aspects of VOY, some more fair than others, one thing I have avoided bullying is Neelix. Critiquing Neelix is like analyzing the Star Wars prequels. The flaws are so obvious, it feels like a waste of time to point them out. The urge not to break the naïve hearts of their respective fans is another deterrent.

The VOY creators had their hearts in the right place. Neelix was supposed to be the fun, goofy break out character whose antics would be the comic relief on a dark show about a near hopeless journey to a home 75 years away. In that respect, we got a highly sitcom character vibe out of Neelix. He is a bad cook. He is a gossipy television talk show host. He is an annoying moral officer. He is an advisor with negligible advise to offer. Essentially, Neelix is Balki Bartokumous--a good hearted fish out of water who wants to try it all in order to find his place.

The problem with that is VOY is not a sitcom. Comic relief within a drama still has to fit within the logic of the drama. Star Trek has done the concept very well in the past. Spock and Data spring to mind immediately as characters whose awkwardness in their environments creates occasional comedic breaks without diminishing the characters or the drama. Indeed, both are beloved characters. Neelix is just not a well crafted character.

Star Trek has had plenty of those, too. Troi and Jadzia “Trill Barbie” Dax come to mind. Being a two dimensional character is not enough to universally turn Trekkies off. Heck, as far as gene Roddenberry was concerned, characters could have all been cardboard cutouts as long as he got his philosophical message across that materialism was bad and managed to sell a lot of action figures in the process.

What puts Neelix in the basement of Star Trek characters is how the writers have attempted to deepen him by yanking him in the polar opposite direction. Is the overly eager to please Neelix annoying? All right. They will have him bully Kes about not taking advantage of her only chance of having a baby out of his own selfish desires. Annoyed by Neelix’s icky sweet nature? Okay. He will have a fist fight with Tom and threaten to kill him over paranoid jealousy. Tired of hearing about what a great tactician, survivalist, and tracker Neelix? Well, you should be. He has failed at every turn since the pilot. It has been one misstep after another trying to get the character to fly. It has rarely worked and never for very long.

“Fair Trade” is one of those rare occasions in which Neelix does work for a while. The episode snaps him into reality without the extremes I described above. Neelix is presented with a dilemma, makes a bad choice, and ultimately has to maturely face up to what he has done. This is about as well as the character has ever been handled. If memory serves, ‘Fair Trade’ is as good as it gets in Neelix-centric episodes.

Neelix has been overenthusiastically seeking out other ship responsibilities to over in security and engineering. He is secretly motivated by the inevitable end of his value as the Delta Quadrant guide--Voyager is about to leave the last area of space Neelix knows anything about. Opportunity knocks when the ship visit’s a trading station to negotiate for supplies and he runs into Wixiban, an old--and literal--partner in crime. Wixiban is stuck on the station after having his ship impounded. He needs one big score to pay the fine to release it. He wants Neelix to help in exchange for a map of the space Voyager is about to enter.

Perhaps it is just me, but I assumed even watching VOY sixteen years ago that it was understood Neelix had been a shady businessman before joining the ship. I considered much of Janeway’s reluctance to bring him and Kes along was because of his criminal past. I figured Kes gaining more important responsibilities like nurse and field medic were a sign she was far more trusted. I thought that because Kes’ relationships appeared far more meaningful, she had more character. So when Wixiban bullies neelix into helping by threatening to tell Janeway about his smuggling past and thereby damaging his credibility, I thought they already know this about him, right? Guess not.

The only reason I mention my longstanding thoughts is that some smuggling deal went badly years ago and Wixiban wound up in prison while Neelix avoided capture. Wixiban hangs his ordeal over Neelix’s head to further bully him into helping. While this would be enough motivation on its own, Neelix is more concerned about what his crewmates would think of him if they knew the truth about his past. It has to be a big secret he was a criminal in order for the emotion to resonate. I did not think it was a big secret, but okay.

The deal is advertised as a medicinal shipment. Anyone with two brain cells to run together knows that means narcotics, but neelix is in denial at this point. The back alley deal goes badly and the drug dealer is shot. Worse yet, the crime syndicate expecting the drugs are not happy they missed out and now demand some warp core plasma from Voyager as compensation.

Just to tighten the screws, chakotay and tom, who were seen in a chance encounter with the drug dealer earlier, are arrested for his murder. Knowing they have been falsely arrested does not initially stop Neelix from stealing some plasma, but he does have a change of heart eventually, opts to confess to taking part in the drug deal, and offers to help catch the crime syndicate traders in exchange for having the charges dropped.

The drug bust winds up with the plasma exploding into a green explosive gas which is--I could you not-the exact same scene as in yesterday’s episode. Budget saving is one thing, but geez, VOY. Could you at least spread the episode out a little bit? Neelix survives with minor injuries. Wixiban leaves him behind to face the consequences of his actions alone.

He is prepared to leave the ship, but Janeway says it is not that easy. He is a vital part of things, but now it is going to be difficult to trust him. I am curious what is so vital about neelix, but I figure I must not be in the proper spirit of things. She assigns him to some grunt work for two weeks. He grins like a moron, implying that he would have scrubbed toilets with his toothbrush before taking part in the drug deal or stealing the plasma if it meant he could stay. Janeway probably degraded him as compensation for not getting the opportunity to kill anyone herself this episode.

I got a little snaky about some bits here. I think it is retroactive continuity to say at least the gist of Neelix’s criminal past is a big secret that needs to be buried at all costs. I am ultimately going to excuse it, however. I have never been desperate to stay in any one place in my life, so I do not understand the unethical lengths one might go to in order to do so. I find ’Fair trade” less compelling than many fans do, but recognize its value in that it tried to make Neelix into a more complex character. The show rarely does that with any character, much less its biggest dud. So it deserves some props for that if nothing else.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Macrocosm"

“Macrocosm” marks a shift in VOY’s third season stories in two ways. They will now become darker and the Borg will be reintroduced as recurring villains. These changes are likely due to the recent success of Star Trek: First Contact Depending on your level of cynicism, you can either consider the shift in the back half of VOY’s third season waiting for Star Trek: First: Contact to have its tone and villains all to itself, or the show is cashing in to boost sagging ratings. I think it is a little of both, but mostly the latter.

We will deal with the Borg reintroduction a little later. “Macrocosm’ apes virtually all elements of Star Trek: First Contact but the inclusion of the Borg. Considering Brannon Braga co-write the film and penned “Macrocosm” as well, there is a feeling of a writer unsure of himself going back to the well he knows is spilling over. The film is not the only well he revisits, though the second is far more inexplicable.

Janeway and Neelix return from a three day trade mission to an alien race who communicate through interpretative dance--no, really--to find Voyager adrift in space. It is dark, environmental controls are going wild, and the crew is nowhere to be found at first. While searching for the crew, Neelix is attacked by a tentacled creature and immediately falls in. Janeway rdiscovers a large portion of the crew unconscious in the mess hall, obviously infected by what struck Neelix. Janeway is eventually attacked, and makes her way to sick bay in order to find the Doctor.

If you are thinking this set up sounds a lot like the awful “Genesis” from TNG, the similarities are striking. I will give Braga credit that he has at least learned from what went wrong with that episode. In “Genesis,” we knew something was happening to the Enterprise crew while Picard and Data were gone. The mystery only needed to be unraveled for them, and that was boring to watch. “Macrocosm” plays it better. We do not know anything about what is going on until the Doctor relates the story of how a virus that had infected a mining colony made its way to Voyager. Braga‘s understanding od science has not improved--the virus is microchopic when it initially strikes, then grows exponentially into a monstrous critter that physically attacks--but he has improved his narrative skills.

Make that improved his narrative skills somewhat. The bulk of the episode is a string of action movie clichés. Janeway even strips down to a tank top and carries a huge gun while roaming the halls looking for these little buggers a ala Die Hard. I also counted a direct dialogue lift from Outbreak. The entire plot is largely Alien. Throw in Janeway’s obsessive bloodlust like Picard’s in Star Trek: Contact, and you have a crazy quilt of action movie elements strung together to form something that sort of resembles a plot.

Near as I can tell, the virtue of “Macrocosm’ is supposed to be Janeway getting down and dirty as an action hero. I have a tough time with it. It was boring watching her sneak around, grimacing in pain from constantly being sneak attacked by the virus. She kills a number of the larger ones in hand to hand combat just to make it more exciting. They explode upon death, too. It is certainly not wise to disperse a contagion in such a manner, both they blowed up good, blowed up real good. Yee haw! Besides, janeway has not personally killed anyone since Henry Starling three episodes back. You know she gets anxious when there is too much time between kills.

She sets off a antigen bomb cure the doctor concocted in a few hours, and thereby saves the day.

If you are into dumb action movies, you will probably go for “Macrocosm.” It has all the paint by number elements you need to make such a film, as well as the usual predictable plot devices that get characters from point A to B to C. if you want to watch a sweaty, grunting, tank top wearing Janeway do her best psychopathic anti-hero, you are in luck there. But you are pretty much out of luck with everything else.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Q and the Grey"

When I have complained in the past that I would rather be beaten with a sack of doorknobs than review VOY, it was episodes like ‘The Q and the Grey” that made the cruising for a bruising more appealing. In the first place, I am not big on Q episodes in the first place. But add to that bad story elements and the complete ignoring of established continuity, and you have an even worse episode than if q just showed up and went about his usual shtick. Kenneth Biller wrote this one, of course. He is an evil, evil man.

Q visits Janeway with a proposition--have a child with him. She naturally refuses, but he continues to court her in the stereotypical ways, among them the Pepe le Pew act, serenading, and gift giving. A female Q shows up to interrupt his hapless endeavor. As she is played by Suzie Plakson, better known as K’Elehr from TNG, I will unimaginatively refer to her as Suzie Q. At the very least, maybe you can sustain yourself through this review with happy thoughts of Credence Clearwater Revival.

Q escapes with Janeway into the Q Continuum just as the aftermath of a supernova is about to strike the ship, leaving the rest of the crew to deal with Suxie Q. It is in the Continuum the just for laughs bits end and the heart of the story, such that it is, begins. Quinn, the Q who committed suicide in order to escape his eternal existence, has sparked off a civil war between those Q who believe in individualism and those who want to maintain the old ways. Q, who had a change of heart and assisted Quinn in his suicide, took up his cause. He now regrets his choice, and like a battered woman in a troubled marriage, thinks having a child will fix the problem.

Janeway perceives the conflict in the best way her mind can comprehend--as the American Civil War. The Q who support indivual freedom are the union. The status quo supporters are the Confederates. If you have any questions as to which side is absolutely correct in the conflict, then you are not politically correct enough to walk out in public unsupervised by a progressive. Kudos to you for that. Q is a yankee, as if I needed another reason to dislike him.

It is at this point, the episode introduces three serious problems that place it firmly in the VOY basement.

One, how can the Q destroy each other in a war? Quinn had to lose his powers before he could commit suicide. It was the only way he could harm himself. “The Q and the Grey” show Q killing each other with guns and cannon balls. The John de Lancie Q is shot in the arm earlier on in order to gain our sympathy. He is not the only one shown to be wounded. There is a Confederate soldier with his leg below the knee missing. If it is possible to create weapons for the Q to maim and kill each other, why could Quinn not have done himself in without having his powers taken away?

Two, while Janeway refuses to mate with Q, she suggests he have a child with Suzie Q instead. Q’s first rationale is that he wants his child to have the best of Q and the best of humanity in himself. Absorb that one for a moment. Q could mate with any human woman who has ever existed or ever will, and he chooses Janeway as the best possible choice. Jeri Taylor’s heart must have grown three sizes when biller tossed in that Janeway id Awesome bit. Q’s second point is pickling. He claims Q do not have children. But they do. Two former Q had a daughter in TNG‘s “True Q” who was a full Q. Q himself was involved in her return to the Continuum, so he ought to know better. There have only been a handful of Q episodes ever, and “True Q” aired only four years prior. It is not asking much to maintain continuity.

Three, Suzie Q, who has lost her powers now thanks to the war, lets the Voyager crew in on a little secret--they can enter the Continuum by way of some techno babble engine modifications and a super nova. You may consider this a weak gripe, but I think it takes what little mystic there is out of the alleged wondrous Continuum by making it an easily accessible destination for a determined ship.

The crew arrives in the Conituum dressed in full union regalia just in time to rescue Janeway and Q from a Confederate firing squad. I suppose the uniforms are a nice touch, but they do seem like a Hollywood embellishment. You know, the crew is wearing them just to be cute. Maybe I am nitpicking with that, too. It is difficult to forgive borderline oddities in an episode that is not very good.

The Confederates surrender because they are outgunned by the Voyager crew. I am surprised that is true, but okay. Q finally decides to take Janeway’s advice and mate with Suxie Q. Realizing hey are about to do the deed right now, Janeway begins to slink off before q asks if she wants to watch. She does, for heaven’s sake. Q and Suxie Q touch index fingers and that is it. Janeway remarks bewilderingly how anticlimactic it was, as though she was expecting to see some real bumping and grinding.

The birth of the child leads to the big question: how is it that two Q on one side in the civil war having a child resolves the conflict? At the very least, the parents should have been one from each side of the ideological struggle. That would have made at least some sense. The continuity issue of Q already having a child in the past aside, I do not see how having the kid changes anything. But remember, I am in the mindset Q has the often terrible rationale that repairing a bad relationship by having a child is a good idea, so perhaps I am biased.

“The Q and the Grey” is quite awful. I would imagine Q fans have to ignore it in order to still enjoy the Q related aspects of the canon. There is no point to the episode at all. The resolution does not make any sense. Janeway does not even think to ask Q to send them back to the Alpha Quadrant as thanks for assisting him. The only virtue of “The Q and the Grey” is a personal penchant for Civil War related stories. I have the typical southern interest in the war, but these days, popular entertainment will rarely touch on it because of the trend of applying modern moral standards to the past. Ted Turner has been the only guy brave enough to make film on the subject in recent years, and he has dropped off the entertainment map in favor of promoting global warming hysteria. Civil War buffs are left out in the cold these days.
"Is it over yet?"

Nope. There are another 116 episodes to go, I am afraid.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Warlord"

Nice outfit.

The poor development of Kes is one of VOY’s biggest losses. The detriment is no more evident than with “Warlord.” It is not that it is a particularly good episode. story wise, it is run of the mill. What it does well is establish Kes as a far more powerful and aggressive character than she has been before. Kes has more or less been the T roi of Voy. No one really knows what to do with her, so they do everything--make her a nurse, make her a telepath, or make her a love interest, none of which becomes her niche. It would be far more interesting if she were to continue developing her mental powers as demonstrated in “Warlord,” but alas, it does not happen.

Voyager rescues three people from a damaged ship. Unfortunately, one of the crewmembers is beyond medical help and perishes. Before he goes, he secretly transfers his conscious into Kes. He uses his new identity to carry out an assassination attempt, then escape to his home planet to overthrow the government.

The guy’s name is Tigan. He was once a brutal dictator eventually deposed by a upper class family. Utilizing kes’ mental powers, he kills the remaining members of the family, save the youngest son to solidify loyalty, and takes his place as the leader yet again.

All that is incidental to the real plot. There is an internal struggle raging between tigan and Kes as she tries to reassert control. She is horrified how she has been reluctantly used as a murderous weapon, and desperately digs deep to use the mental abilities she never knew she had in order to defeat him. It is a maturing experience for her. Much of her naïve and adventurous nature subsequently disappears not that she has seen the dark side of what she can do.

After dealing with her character development for two acts, “Warlord” descends into a men on a mission firefight to oppose the coup and rescue Kes. The previous two episodes have been heavy on action in order to solve the dilemma, and it feels like the same old, same old here. It would be more interesting for Kes to defeat Tigan on her own rather than a phaser battle and a techno babble device restoring her to full form. The existential struggle is far more interesting than the guns blazing resolution we got.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with “Warlord.” It is a typical, character centric episode. Quite a bit of what is done with kes is interesting viewing. But there is no real follow up to any of her developments, save for dumping Neelix. Really, was it not puzzling she liked him in the first place? If the point of the episode is to empower Kes, then it makes no sense that she has to be rescued by mindless violence. But like I said above, none of the writers seem to know what to do with the character.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Future's End, Part II"

“Future’s End, Part II” takes place right where we left off yesterday--an inconsequential cliffhanger. Voyager’s appearance on the evening news has no consequences whatsoever. Not a big deal, but one would have hoped for a more intense cliffhanger. The concluding episode is, in spite of a little socialistic preaching in the middle, about the best conclusion one could hope to see. The episode is a mostly slam bang, guns blazing action resolution,. It is far less talky and loaded with techno babble than the first part.

The plot revolves around the crew attempting to capture Henry Starling and search for the stolen time ship while he is out of the way. The entertainment value is in Starling’s ingenuity in evading permanent capture. For every plan they attempt to beam him away or take they time ship back, he has some 29th century technology that ultimately stymies their effert. Surprisingly, his constant one gunmanship using unexplainable technology does not come across as typical VOY techno babble nonsense solutions that take all the drama out of the situation. On fears the motifs success here might have promoted the idea it could be done repeatedly in future episodes. Too much of a good thing, you know?

Starling’s first attempt to block a transport results in a manufactured dramatic sequence in which Chakotay and torres crash land a shuttle in the Arizona desert and are captured by rightwing separatists. I say manufactured drama because the shuttle, which was severely damaged in the first place, is perfectly capable of flight without repairs two acts later. The sequence exists only to bring in the separatists for a little lecture on the evils of conservatism. Quite literally, in fact. There are two scenes back to back which feature Janeway and Starling, now successfully held for a time on Voyager, discussing the merits of capitalism and Chakotay and torres being given the verbal manifesto of the separatists.

The Starling/janeway confrontation is the one I find most interesting. While Janeway is motivated to keep Starling from using the time ship to inadvertently destroy the solar system in the 29th century, she clearly has nothing but contempt for what he represents in general. Starling argues the 29th century technology he usurped changed the world for the better. He is responsible for microchips, the internet, etc. His plan is to go into the 29th century and grab more technology in the hope of advancing the 20th century by leaps and bounds.

Certainly, Starling is a megalomaniac who believes the ends justifies the means, but janeway does not even see the value of his ends. She immediately scolds him that in her time, people care about bettering themselves and the world around them, not with making money. Starling counters--rightly so, if you ask me--that his innovations have improved the world. She is just mad he got rich in the process. That is true, because she storms off with the threat she is going to destroy all his assets in order to make certain the time ship has been eliminated.

Counter this with the lecture Chakotay and Torres, tied up in the basement of a heavily armed compound receive. The separatists proclaim there are two factions. One promotes collectivism. The pother espouses individualism. They accuse Chakotay and Torres of being collectivist operatives of the federal government. Chakotay replies--wait for it--that they are not collrctivists. Not only is it dumb on the surface to claim the Federation is not collectivist in the first place, Chakotay’s proclamation comes immediately after janeway has contemptuously lectured Starling over his capitalist philosophy and threatened to destroy everything he has. The sad part is I do not believe the writers intended for these two scenes to contradict one another as they did. Both Starling and the separatists are supposed to be unquestionably wrong in their beliefs. If the writers wanted that to be more obvious, they should have spaced the scenes out more. As it is, they shoot themselves in the foot while attempting to take aim at capitalism.

Aside from that little lesson into pinko economics, the rest of the episode is mindless action. There are firefights, car chases, explosions, and in the climax, janeway makes good on her promise and jury rigs a photon torpedo to blow starling and his time ship out of the sky before he can enter the time rift. No discussions about the morality of her action or whether she should just try to capture him again. Nope, he is a capitalist. Kill him. Oh, and yeah, we will save the solar system by doing so. That is important, too, I guess. Uh...take that, Starling!

Sarah Silverman’s Rain Robinson character has much more to do this time around, so I liked her much better. In the previous episode, she existed solely to create the only real action sequence in the episode. In this episode, she was a capable tech geek who actively assisted in saving the day. She would probably be considered a more popular side character in Star Trek if her treatment had not been so uneven episode to episode.

“Future’s End, Part II” is fun, but does not stand up to much scrutiny. Braxton returns at the end to claim he never experienced the time in which his ship was stolen, but he conveniently returns Voyager to the 24th century Delta Quadrant because of the Temporal Prime Directive. One wonsders, if they can detect Voyager out of place in time, why they could not have found the time ship Starling stole far sooner. Or why they have not shown up to correct time travel issues before ENT. Or why they will allow the doctor to keep 29th century technology that will now allow him to leave sickbay and travel about. It is best not to think about these tings. Jusy enjoy the fun episode.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Future's End, Part I"

That is what 24th century Starfleet officers consider going native in 1996 Los Angeles. The outfits are absurd, but fit right in with the wild theme of the ’Future’s End” two part episode. I am a sucker for time travel stories. So much so that I can generally cast aside my cynical, nitpicking nature regarding the physics and paradoxical problems involved. But I can only do that when the story itself is engaging. Fortunately, in spite of some flaws, ’Future’s End, Part I” is engrossing enough to excuse them.

This being VOY, we start with a problem right off the bat. A time ship from the 29th century Federation appears in the Delta Quadrant and begins firing on Voyager without explanation. Now we know the 29th century Federation has adopting Janeway’s gun barrel diplomacy as standard policy. She has no time to appreciate her legacy, as the crew rigs a techno babble solution to temporarily save themselves from the attack long enough to communicate wit the other ship.

It is piloted by Braxton, a character who has become so popular among younger Trekkies there were rumors he might turn out to be Future Guy from ENT. Skepticism reigns with that, I have a hunch why he is popular, which I will address in a moment. Braxton reluctantly explains an explosion in his century will destroy earth’s solar system . Some debris from Voyager is found after the explosion, so they get the blame. Braxton insists he has no time to discuss the issue further and attacks again. His attack opens a temporal rift which entraps both ships.

I have already addressed the shoot first and do not worry about questions at any point tactic Braxton uses, but one has to be amused that a time traveler claims he has no time to explain things. You would think he has all the time he wants. With that time, he could actually meet with Janeway and explain things instead of--and this is something he should have foreseen with even a moments that--engaging in a rash action which is the catalyst for the solar system’s eventual destruction. Gene Roddenberry would be proud to know how far his advanced 24th century humans have regressed by the 29th.

Thankfully, the plot set up is the only really bad part of the story. The rest follows through in entertaining fashion. Braxton and Voyager arrive in Earth’s solar system at different times. Braxton loses his time ship to a hippie named Henry Starling in 1969. Starling uses the technology to become a billionaire computer mogul by 1996 when Voyager arrives. The crew is unaware of the time ship’s fate, but they beam down incognito looking for Braxton.

The away team splits into two. Jane way and Chakotay, unaware the Sonny Crockett look died in 1989, track down Braxton, who is now a formerly institutionalized homeless man who has no resources to stop Starling. Tom and Tuvok are off to erase any evidence of Voyager existence from a astronomer’s observatory run by Raine Robinson, who is played by a far less vulgar than usual Sarah Silvermen. Paths intersect when Starling, who has been on the lookout for visitors from the future looking for his technology, sends goons to get rid of Robinson, tom, and Tuvok.

Starling is on the verge of unveiling his time ship to the public. The attempt to stop him ends in disaster when his 29th century technology proves too much for Voyager’s 24th. He disables the ship and steals the Doctor the episode ends on a meaningless cliffhanger in which news footage of camcorder video of Voyager flying about airs on a local news broadcast. It is a weather balloon, folks. Nothing to see here.

If you got any impression ’Future’s End, Part I” mimics the plot to Back to the Future III, go to the head of the class. Not only does the plot line up, but when Janeway and Chakotay discover Braxton, he channels Christopher Lloyd’s Doc Brown when explaining everything that happened, right down to drawing it all out in chalk with brown’s inflection in his voice. This is what I hinted at above it the likely root of his popularity. Other obvious homage involve Starling acquiring technology as a ‘60’s hippie to become a wealthy businessman as opposed to Biff Tannen being given a sports almanac as a ’50’s greaser to become a wealthy businessman. Both modern day Starling and Tannen are on constant watch for anyone from the future whom they might have to eliminate with extreme prejudice. Ironically, Back to the Future II is far darker the “Future’s End, Part I” even though it is a comedy. I am not criticizing the similarities, either. While they do stand out, it does not feel like VOY ripped the movie off. Your mileage may vary.

As a set up for the second part, the episode does its job. Aside from Braxton’s frankly dumb actions to set events in motion, the story flows logically and entertainingly. Oftentimes the first part of a two part episode does not feature enough pay off without seeing the second part to be worthwhile in itself. Not so here. I expected the often weak writing staff to ham up the fish out of water elements of the away team’s situation to unbearable levels,, but am pleasantly surprised that was kept to a minimum.

If there is a weak point, it is Silverman. She is there to provide eye candy for the fourteen year old virgins watching. They even made her an astronomy geek with a taste for geeky toys and bad science fiction movies to boost her appeal. I will grant that she was pretty cute back then before I knew much about her obnoxiously vulgar comic persona, but is largely irrelevant to the story. The attempt to kill her comes across as manufactured solely to give Tom and Tuvok an action sequence instead of erasing computer data of Voyager existence and calling it a day.

A small gripe, but there you go. “Future’s End, Part I” is fun enough to overlook its flaws, including the puzzling like of Eugenic War that is supposedly raging at the time according to trek lore. Nevertheless, it is a cannot miss that compels one to watch the conclusion. That is what a good first part is for.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Sacred Ground"

There you go, folks. Janeway naked. For an episode that centers heavily on the theme of faith, nearly viewing Kate Mulgrew’s bare behind has to strike a devastating blow to your faith in humanity. Mulgrew cites “Sacred Ground” as one of her favorite Janeway-centric episodes, so it must have been a thrill of some description for her. I go back and forth about it myself. The episodes explores the balance between faith and reason, but does not draw a satisfactory conclusion.

Do note this is a Janeway-centric episode, but not one written by Jeri Taylor. As such, it is not officially a Janeway is awesome episode. Arguably, Janeway comes across as diminished when considering how the episode largely plays out because of a big misconception on her part. But that is also difficult to determine. This is a Lisa Klink script and therefore a muddled mess. It certainly is amusing to picture Taylor having to be sedated in order to endure Klink’s messing with her beloved Janeway.

Several members of the crew are on a guided tour of a monastery when kes, impetuous and curious as she is, wanders off to investigate a portal through which lies the spirit world. Kes is struck down by an energy blast and rendered comatose. In order to find a treatment, the crew wants to scan the portal. The monks say no, because kes has been punished by the spirits for trespassing.

Neelix researches history and discovers an ancient king whose son had approached the portal and been struck down the same as Kes. The king was allowed to go on a vision quest to meet the spirits and plead for his son’s life. He succeeded. Janeway, claiming as captain she has as much responsibility for a member of her crew as a father does for his son, requests to endure the vision quest herself.

This is the point at which the theme of faith v. reason gets muddled beyond all comprehension. Janeway thinks these religious rituals are a bunch of silly mumbo jumbo and has no problem sharing her skepticism with Chakotay, the doctor, and anyone else on Voyager who cares to listen. Ther only reason she is willing to go through the vision quest is because the doctor will insert a subnormal scanner so she can covertly gather scientific data during the experience. She thinks that is the only way to find a cure for Kes. The monks somehow know this is what she is doing, but allow her to do so anyway.

Janeway endures a stereotypical string of endurance tests, many of which are close to the kind she mocked in front of Chakotay earlier when she was researching the subject in preparation. She is stripped naked, which is more an endurance test for us, body painted, made to hold a heavy rock for hours while waiting for a sign, made to climb a wall free hand, bitten by a snake, locked in a sarcophagus for nearly two days, and generally starved and dehydrated. In the end, the sub dermal scanner finds what the Doctor assumes is a viable treatment for Kes.

It is not, however. It makes her even worse. In a huff, Janeway returns to the monastery to try another route. This time, she debates the value of science verses faith with three old monks sitting on a bench. The debate is too farfetched to go into here, but the gist of it is the cure would work, but Janeway is too misguided in her faith that science is the only answer. She needs to have faith that sometimes things do not work out the way they rationally should. In the end, Janeway carries Kes back through the portal even though scans say the emitted radiation will fry them both. Instead, because Janeway has no doubt the portal will cure Kes, it does with no harm done to her, either.

An examination of Kes they could have just put her into the portal again in the first place, but without being allowed to scan it, could not know that. Thus, the whole point of the episode is to teach janeway to have faith in somwthing other than the cold, hard facts. Which is, frankly, dumb.

I make no secret of my Christian beliefs. While I do not consider science the mortal enemy, I am inclined to often spiritual explanations even when there is a “valid” scientific explanation. Not to spark off a tangential debate, but the easiest way to explain it is that the gaps in which god is supposedly hiding are not as tiny as rationalists would have you believe. More relevant to the point, science and religion are not the same. You do not have to have faith in science for it to work. The idea that Kes cannot be cured until Janeway believes she can be is absurd.

Janeway’s experience is a knock on both faith and reason. Her endurance tests in the vision quest were self-inflicted because she believed those are the kinds of struggles one goes through during such a thing. She suffered because she believed in a caricature of religion, and it ultimately failed her. Conversely, none of the accurate scientific data she gathered, which should have cured kes, worked because Janeway had too much faith it would and needed to let go instead. I do not buy for a second Janeway had removed all doubt the radiation from the portal was going to fry both her and Kes. But it does not matter. According to the doctor’s analysis, it would have cured Kes anyway. They just did not know that in the beginning.

So what is “Sacred Ground” ‘s message about faith v. reason? Beats the heck out of me. Janeway had faith when she was supposed to have faith, and failed. She relied on reason when she was supposed to be reasonable, and failed. It was when she had faith in reason she succeeded, but who cares? You do not need to have faith in reason for it to work. That is why it is called reason!

Lisa Klink, folks. She is a victim of the modern intellectual trap of when in doubt, doubt rather than commit to anything school of thought.

“Sacred Ground” is generally panned by fans for the reason I just described. Star Trek fans are generally skeptics who will not accept the idea science and religion are on equal footing. I outlined why I, as a devout Christian, have my own objections to what the episode is trying to say. It is interesting to examine the flaws in the message, however, and for that reason, I am going to award “Sacred Ground” three stars. If you like for your Star Trek to espouse your personal views or at least present a decent rationale as to why it is going in the other direction instead, you will really hate this one.

Fun note: one of the monks in the science v. reason debate is played by Estelle Harris, who played George Costanza’s mother on Sereinfeld. George was played by longtime Star trek fan Jason Alexander, who will go on to play a character in VOY’s sixth season. We will get to that one sometime in October, Lord willing and the Creek don’t rise.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Remember"

Voyager has thus far avoided a lot of social commentary, preferring instead to stick, for better or worse, with its stranded far from home theme. So when the show decides to tackle a less than subtle Holocaust allegory, I fret over the likely frivolous handling of the matter. Is the episode really a cashing in on the success of Schindler’s List written by the generally weak Lisa Klink? Thankfully, perhaps even surprisingly, it is not. “Remember” is one of the best episode VOY has had so far.

The ship is transporting a group of telepaths home in exchange for energy conservation technology. Relations are going splendidly until torres begins having incredibly vivid dreams in which she feels as though she is living the life of another. That is exactly what she is doing. An elderly telepath who is quietly dying is transferring her memories into Torres. At first, they are sensual. Torres is dreaming of a love affair with a young man. But they soon turn sinister as the similarities Holocaust as events play out.

The young man is part of a religious or philosophical sect--it is not made clear which--that eschews technology. He and “Torres’ live on a planet that has just developed warp technology and is rapidly headed for the stars. The general population thinks the regressive are holding them back, so they begin separating them for the rest of society. Eventually, a colony is established for them to live separately. Rumors begin circulating the Regressives are being mass exterminated instead of sent off to the colony. “Torres” does not believe it at first, but slowly begins to accept not only that the mass execuutions are true, but that they are a good idea in the name of progress.

The elderly telepath passed these memories onto Torres as an act of redemption for cooperating with both the genocide of the Regressives and subsequent denial. The other telepaths deny the genocide ever took place, claiming the dying telepath was an old, confused woman. Nothing can really be done other than Torres convincing another young telepath to take share the memories f so the truth will not be lost to history.

“Remember” certainly is not the first Star Trek episode relives the life of another, domed person, so originality is not its strong point. Even aside from the done many, many times Holocaust allegory. Nevertheless, the episode does not come across as clichéd or melodramatic. If nothing else, I am astonished a mediocre show like VOY can pull it off.

The use of Torres is inspired. The has not done much with her. She has been presented as an overly aggressive, conflicted person whose claim to fame as a crackerjack engineer does not hold up under the (unintentionally, due to poor writing) stupid things she keeps doing. On the plus side, her own genocidal tendencies towards the Cardassians have been tempered over several episodes in which Torres has been centric. “Remember” caps it off by granting her empathy, not just sympathy. It is a highly pleasing character arc on a series that never worried with many character arcs in the first place. “Remember” is definitely a series highlight and the best episode of the terribly uneven third season.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"False Profits"

“False Profits” is another of VOY’s attempts to boost its connection with the rest of Star Trek by bringing in a familiar element from the Alpha Quadrant. The show really stretches this time, which is quite an accomplishment considering I have to compare it to past efforts like Amelia Earhart being taken as a slave laborer, randomly stumbling across an imprisoned Q with a penchant for Earth history, and a Cardassian missile which did not explode while traveling through the same phenomena that nearly destroyed Voyager. this time around, we get a sequel to TNG’s “The Price” You were all clamoring for that, right?

If you do not recall “The Price,” I do not blame you. It is one of the Troi-centric episodes and therefore awful. The plot was a negotiation for the rights to use a wormhole. One of the negotiators was secretly a Betazed who used his empathic abilities as an unfair advantage. He and Troi made the beast with two backs in order to keep his secret. The wormhole turned out to be unstable, but the truth is not discovered until after two Ferengi travel through. The pair wound up in the Delta Quadrant. In an even worse fate, they wound up in an episode of VOY.

Voyager discovers the unstable wormhole. Harry and Toores far too easily devise a plan to lasso the wormhole and use it to get home which makes one wonder why it could not have been done seven years prior. While prepping the plan, sensors discover a replicator has been used recently on a Bronze Age like world. Upon covert investigation, the away team discovers the two missing Ferengi have usurped local religious lore to make themselves into gods in order to exploit the people. Janeway decides--of course--this cannot stand and plots to get rid of the ferengi and the contamination of the people’s culture.

“False Profits’ is meant to be comedy gold. What VOY writers find hilarious is Neelix antics, the evils of capitalism, and the ignorance of religious yokels. I will grant you there are the occasional laughs, but it is still difficult to get passed the Lucy and Ethel level plot of passing off Neelix as first a messenger of the Grand Nagus to fool the two ferengi, then a heralding angel to fool the people. In order for all this to be set up, the most logical plan--beam the Ferengi away and be done with it--is eliminated as an idea with the unconvincing argument that destroying the people’s faith in their religion would stymie their culture. I think they would adapt, but whatever.

The story is terribly contrived in order to create absurd comedy bits and false drama. In the climax, the people interpret their religious text too literally and decide to burn Neelix and the two Ferengi at the stake. The two had set up a dampening field to prevent them from being beamed out again, so Chakotay and Tom have to shut it off in order to save the three. They fiddle with the device, then decide they will just shoot it. Since Neelix is about to become medium well, why waste the time trying to shut the thing off? Just shoot it in the first place. Ah, but that would have resulted in less dramatic tension. I see.

But that is not the worst of it. We revisit Star Trek: Gilligan’s Island because we know the plan to use the wormhole has to be screwed up somehow. It is, by the ferengi escaping security, making it to the cargo bay where they were told their ship is, making an escape, getting sucked into the wormhole, and destroying it, all in less than two minutes. It should have taken more than two minutes for these dopes to even find the cargo bay, much less completely escape. What is with Voyager’s security, by the way? They really blew this one. Implausibly.

“False Profits” has some amusing points, but the plot is too much of a sitcom for it to be an episode of VOY. The contrivances are annoying as well. It is difficult to get into the story when I know the Ferengi are going to be disposed of and the wormhole is not going to send Voyager home. The comedy would have to be impressive enough to make me overlook the predictability. It is not. Skip this one with clean conscience.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Swarm"

“The Swarm” is definitely a mixed bag. I am more disappointed with it than the usual mediocre VOY fare because it features a doctor-centric story. Robert Picardo is by far the best actor on the series. The doctor is still a character that can only have limited use in stories because of his confinement to sickbay and the holodeck, so on the rare chances we get a story revolving around the Doctor, I expect something special. It does not happen this time around. Worse yet, the episode is dragged down by the pointless B-story.

The main idea idea has much merit. The Doctor’s memories are degrading because his program was never intended to contain so much extraneous experience. They could just hit reset, but that would wipe out of the personality developments he he gained over the last two years. Kes in particular thinks that would be too much of a loss and advocates any other solution. Do appreciate the irony of a refusal to use a reset button by characters on this show. I am amused, at any rate.

If there is anything to be praised about ’The Swarm,” it is the character interactions between Kes and the degrading Doctor. Picardo is essentially playing a man slipping falling rapidly into senility. Kes desperately, but patiently, props him up in his old ways as much as possible. She reminds me of a loving granddaughter who realizes her grandfather is fading away, so she keeps a sense of his normal self as long as possible. At other times, I get a sense her feelings are, if not romantic, then puppy love. Another episode later on this season will play on the concept again from the doctor’s perspective, so there is something to the idea of love between the two.

“The Swarm” is the first time Picardo plays both the Doctor and Louis Zimmerman, though as a diagnostic hologram rather than the real thing, simultaneously. They have an entertaining interaction, but this is not the best episode to feature the two characters together. Kes herself works out the solution to download the diagnostic hologram into the doctor’s program like a skin graft. It works, but the doctor appears to not retain all of his memories.

As you can tell, there is nothing about a swarm of anything thus far in the review. The doctor’s plight takes up much of the episode. It is also the best part. The rest of the episode introduces a new alien menace which serves as little more than an advertisement for VOY action figures. Quite literally, as it were. While it is unfair to judge an episode because of outside factors, an action figure of a Swarm Alien was released months before this episode aired. I recall fans saying it looked cool, but nothing was known about it for months. Until this episode when the aliens attack Voyager by boarding the bridge and engaging in a quick firefight. I guess that convinced every kid he had to have one. It reminded me of my youngest days when virtually every character in the Star Wars films, no matter how obscure, got an action figure and every fan wanted one. This is not the first time VOY has used an episode to promote a tie in product. Last season featured a Hallmark Christmas ornament of Voyager.

(No, I did not have a Janewqay action figure, thank you very much. I did have one of those Jawa Beanie Baby deals sitting on top of my computer right next to my plush University of South Carolina mascot, Cocky. Such was my most open concession to science fiction geekdom at the time.)

Aside from the blatant advertisement, we have the added issue of Janeway contradicting a past position she once held strongly with no journey as to how she came to change her mind. Flipping that mental coin , I suppose. The premise is the Swarm are highly xenophobic. Neelix says they attack anyone and everyone who invades their space. Voyager could go around their space, but it would add fifteen months to the journey. Janeway says screw it and goes through anyway because, as she says, she does not like bullies. Projecting there, methinks.

The problem is Starfleet forbids its ships from crossing into alien space without permission, as took points out. Janeway replies with the above concern she does not want to add fifteen years to the journey and she hates bullies. Those are not necessarily good excuses--what is fifteen more months on an already 75 year journey, really?--but there is also that Janeway has refused to bend the rules in the past even if it would have gotten her crew closer to home. If she has changed her attitude, fine. Show us why she did. But they do not. She has just decided on a whim to do the exact opposite of what she previously considered a high moral imperative and that is the end of it. Swarm action figures are now available in stores everywhere. Buy ’em by the backhoe load. They are swarms, you know.

The Doctor half of the episode is good, full of touching character moments that still feel like they could have been much more. The Swarm Alien parts are blah advertisements. What is worse is the crew is so preoccupied with the swarm, the doctor’s fate takesa backseat. If his program degrades down to nothing, that is it for medical treatment the rest of the trip. Should that not have some people worried? It is said even if his program is reset, it may just degrade again. That sounds like something everyone ought to be on pins and needles about. But no such luck. The Swarm aliens should have been taken out altogether with the doctor’s problem comprising the entirety of the story. That way, “The Swarm” could have risen above the dilemma of the week story we got instead.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Chute"

“The Chute” is a unique creature in the VOY canon--a Hard Luck Harry episode that is actually good. Note I say good, and not great. I make the distinction with a heavy heart. There is a classic episode lurking about within. It is a dark story and full of above the norm acting from Garret Wang and Robert Duncan MacNeil , but there are too many of the usual way too convenient happenings to move the story along. It also suffers from an anti-climactic ending. Nevertheless, it counts as one of the best scripts Kenneth biller has written. I have not and will not praise his writing much, so I have to give him credit when I can.

Harry and tom are wrongly convicted of a terrorist bombing which was really carried out by a terrorist group called Open Sky. They were convicted because traces of trilithium were found on them. Trilithium is an element not found on the planet. The two find themselves in a prison community in which inmates struggle to survive not only with limited resources, but with a device attached to their nervous systems which stimulates aggression. The only way in or out is a large, electrified chute in which new prisoners and food rations are dumped.

The key point to take away from the episode is harry and tom’s struggle to survive. Their plan to disable the electric force field is hampered when tom is stabbed in the abdomen. Harry then not only has to work on their escape, but keep tom alive from both his serious wound and murder. As time goes on, Harry himself has to quell his own desire to kill Tom in the name of survival. Harry is not his usual naïve self here. He has to grow up fast in a brutal environment where his only ally is a completely insane inmate named Zio.

Where the episode loses steam is the Voyager bits. The planetary authorities refuse to allow the crew to contact Harry and Tom because they are all considered part of Open Sky now. Voyager is chased away. The only recourse is to find the real terrorists, which they do way too conveniently. It is a brother and sister who have their own cargo vessel as a cover for their terrorist activities. Janeway uses her usual brand of diplomacy--that is to say none--to haul their ship in, kidnap the brother and sister, and then force them to reveal the location of the prison. The finale is a slam bang, guns blazing rescue which leaves a scant couple minutes back on Voyager for harry to wrestle with his guilt over once nearly killing tom and Tom reassuring him they are still buds. They go off to share a steak dinner together.

If “The Chute” had been all about Harry’s conflict, inner and outer, it would be a four, maybe even five star episode. But “The Chute” is dragged down by everything else. What is the point of dumping prisoners in a closed environment to secretly kill each other over limited resources? Why are their control panels accessible to prisoners which can be used to shut the electrified force field off with a little engineering know how? How did Tom survive a near disembowelment for days with no food, water, or sterile living space? Zio has overcome the aggressive urges prompted by the device connected to his nervous system, but Harry is not interested in knowing how he did it even though he really needs his mind cleared in order to protect Tom and escape. Janeway finds the real bombers way too easily, and their capture prompts a far too quick ending. Just how did they know where the prison was located, anyway? Too much of these kind of issues is distracting.

When I say guns blazing rescue, I mean Janeway to the guns blazing rescue:Tuvok is little more than an afterthought. You cannot tell by this photo, but Tuvok is brandishing one of those pussy 24th century Dustbuster phasers in his left hand.. Janeway took the rifle for herself. While "The Chute" is not a Janeway-centric episode written by Jeri Taylor, we nevertheless learn that Janeway, who just last episode lamented she cannot disregard the Prime Directive and whip out a phaser like Kirk used to do, is awesome! Because she is Chuck Norris in a sports bra.

"The Chute” is still a good episode. It is one of the highlights of the very uneven third season. Wang’s acting and Biller’s writing are generally bland, so on the rare occasions they are not, you have to give them credit. This might be the only time they both brought their a-game at the same time. I think “The chute” is about two re-writes from a great episode, but as it stands, it is still one of the more solid VOY episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, July 18, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Flashback"

“Flashback” is part of the 30th anniversary celebration of Star Trek. Along with its sister show DS9, VOY featured an episode which involved interacting with pivotal events from the past. In my humble opinion, DS9 got the better end of the deal with “Trials and Tribbleations’. “Flashback,” while possessing a certain nostalgia factor with the appearances of Hikaru Sulu, Janice Rand, and Kang, comes across as gimmicky considering how the three factor in.

When approaching a nebula that contains yet another possible new power source, Tuvok takes ill because of a recurring allegedly repressed memory from his childhood in which he is attempting to keep a little girl from falling from a cliff, but fails. Took does not recognize the setting or the little girl, but the effect of the memory is causing brain damage. To alleviate it, he must engage in a never before mentioned and hereafter ignored Vulcan procedure in which he and a confidant travel back in time to the memory. He chooses Janeway.

Instead of traveling back to where the memory originated, they wind up on the Excelsior during the events of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. The story follows Sulu as he disobeys orders to attempt a rescue of Kirk and McCoy from Rua Penthe after they have been wrongly convicted of assassinating the Klingon chancellor. Took, an ensign fresh out of the academy, objects to the violation of orders and is lectured on loyalty by Sulu. The lecture prompts Tuvok to resign from Starfleet after the mission is complete because he cannot handle the illogic of humans. He explains to Janeway that he did eventually return once he wised up, which explains why it appeared he was an ensign for 80 years. See, he is not the Beetle Bailey of Starfleet. He just wandered off to do other things.

The only real action sequence involves a never before revealed confrontation between Sulu and Kang that helped stymie the attempt to rescue Kirk and McCoy. The real impediment is when the Excelsior runs into the same type nebula that Voyager does 80 years later. The encounter causes a cosole to explode, injuring a crewman friend of Tuvok’s. when Tuvok comes to his aid, he discovers the crewman is having the same memory of the little girl with himself in Tuvok’s position.

The memory turns out to be a virus living within the nebula . It disguises itself as a memory to avoid antibiotics or some such techno babble thing. The point is it nearly destroys took and janeway before the doctor bombards them with radiation to kill it. The two of them are, of course, unharmed.

The homage to past Star Trek feels small in comparison to DS9’s contribution. “Trials and Tribble-ations” took us back to a popular episode of TOS with all the old characters and had a plot with consequences--the Ds9 crew have to save Kirk’s life. It even answered the humorous question of why tribbles keep falling from the grain storage onto kirk’s head--Sisko and Dax are inside tossing them out of the way. ’Flashback” is lackluster. Yes, it is neat to see George Takei, Grace Lee Whitney, and Michael Ansara reprise their TOS roles, but it is in an inconsequential story we forgot to tell you five years ago sort of thing that serves only to explain how Tuvok contracts a virus.

The story leaves no impact on Star Trek history like the DS9 crew‘s actions did. Aside from the TOS character appearances, there is nothing here but reminiscing. Took talks about how he got to meet Kirk, mcCoy, et al at Khitomir, but that is it, but that is all he gets to do. We do not learn that he was pivotal to the events we already knew about. There is one unintentionally funny bit where janeway is researching the events surrounding Kirk and McCoy’s arrest. She longingly remarks to Harry how much she would appreciate living in the era when Kirk could flout the Prime directive and whip out a phasor at will. Geez, Janeway. You could not disregard the prime directive or be more trigger happy than you already are. Exactly how reckless do you dream of being?

On a personal level, I like that Tuvok’s rationale for quitting Starfleet is his irritation at the arrogance of the human dominated organization. He complains that humans insist every alien in the galaxy act exactly as they do. I have made the same criticism many times that gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future is perfect humans spreading the gospel of secular humanism and socialism to alien races who are doing everything wrong no matter how they are going about what they do. Of course, Tuvok returns to Starfleet once he realizes he is wrong, but for a brief moment, he had the major flaw of Star Trek philosophy pegged. Filthy alien eventually came around to the proper way of thinking, though.

“Flashback’ is not bad, it just does not feel like anything special. It could be a more plausible regular February or May sweeps “event” episode than a 39th anniversary celebration. Sure, it is neat to see old characters again, but the run of the mill story does not honor the occasion. I do not care to spend an anniversary celebration learning why Tuvok left Starfleet or how he got a virus. Nor do I want to hear how excited he and Janeway are about being in Kirk’s era without there being any consequences of them being there. It is a fun episode worth watching, but you will come away upset abut the missed opportunities.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Basics, Part II"

“Basics, Part Ii’ serves as the third season premiere and the final episode written by the departing executive producer Michael Piller. It was filmed back to back with the second season finale, so in terms if its basic (no pun intended) feel, it fits in more with the second season than the meandering third. The episode wraps up a lot of loose ends, almost in too orderly a fashion, leaving the show to find a new direction in the aftermath. It will have a tough time right up until the third season finale reintroduces the Borg and brings Seven of nine into the picture for the first time.

It is clear throughout that Piller had been a stabilizing influence for VOY up until this point. While the second season had brought in a number of Alpha Quadrant elements in some of the most inexplicable ways to make VOY more Star Trek and a number of episodes were clearly pet projects from particular writers, the third season really cuts loose. There are also some incredibly outlandish concepts. One wonders if Piller had stayed, could he have turned VOY around as he did TNG in its third season? We will revisit these points later. For now, “Basics, Part II.”

There is a lot going on here, perhaps too much for one episode--not that I advocate more VOY than is necessary. But there was some question when Piller was writing this episode as to whether the crew should remain stranded on the planet for a few episodes just to shake things up. I am not certain how interesting that would have been considering the One Million Years BC homage throughout their ordeal is the least interesting aspect of “Basics, Part II.” I care more about the Doctor and Suder’s effort to retake Voyager, tom’s recruitment of the Talaxians for assistance, and the kazon plan for what to do with the ship now that they finally have it far more interesting. Unfortunately, the elements I like are rushed and undeveloped to make room for the survival story.

Let us face it--the crew’s rescue is a foregone conclusion. We know they are going to find food and water on the planet and fight off any enemies until they are rescued by Voyager. What we do not know is whether the Kazon have big plans for their new ship or how the unlikely trio of the Doctor, Suder, and Tom are going defeat the Kazon and rescue the crew. I found that far more interesting than Chakotay’s mildly offensive jokes at being the only Indian who cannot start a fire by rubbing sticks together or fire a bow and arrow properly. That is just the beginning of the bad elements of the stranded crew storyline. More emphasis about the efforts against the Kazon would have been welcome.

Might as well get the on planet stuff out of the way. Chakotay is not the only character who winds up looking bad. Neelix, inexplicably in charge of a scavenging party, comes across some bones at the mouth of a cave. He orders Hogan to gather tham up. For use as tools or weapons. Why it never occurs to Neelix there are bones at the mouth of a cave because something carnivorous leaves inside is beyond me and apparently Hogan, too, as he gets eaten by a giant land eel popping out of the cave. Some survivalist Neelix is.

He further proves his uselessness by getting himself and Kes captured by a primitive tribe. They speak an unintelligible language, but it is made quite clear they want kes as a sex slave because they are more than happy to trade both Neelix and a homely looking member of the tribe to Chakotay in exchange for her. Not a bad trade, when you think about it. Kes is hot. They all wind up escaping into a cave similar to the one in which the land eel lives, so yeah, another crewmember gets eaten by an eel. Thanks, Neelix. Credit where credit is due, the eel is quite good CGI for 1996 television. It is not often Star Trek has tried something like it in the past, so at least the show took a risk.

The crew and the tribe make peace when Chakotay saves a woman trapped on a rock amid flowing lava. It is the same woman the tribe was willing to sacrifice in order to pass Kes around like a bong at a Grateful Dead concert, but what they heck. He must have suddenly gained more importance to them. Or maybe we are supposed to be distracted by that because we are wondering how Chakotay can step around inches above molten lava without the his flesh falling off the bone. Yeah, I know--it is alien lava! It works different than Earth lava. Whatever, Trekkies.

For all the similarities to One Million Years BC, we never see any hot women in fur bikinis. Kes and Torres would have been nice. I am sure that monkey from a few episodes ago would like a peek at Janeway. Heaven help the little guy. No seven yet, so you will especially have to use your imagination with that one. I suggest saving Janeway for last to snap you out of euphoria.

It is the other half of the episode which saves it. While I think it is a waste we never see the Kazon actually do anything with Voyager, it is not so bad in consideration of the time spent dealing with the doctor and Suder’s subversive efforts. First, I appreciate how Maquis tactics save the day. Second, I also appreciate the Doctor has to coax Suder into cutting loose his murderous instincts, which he does with reckless abandon in his final Rambo-esque act. Many fans oppose the idea of not only offering the character an act of redemption by allowing him to be a mass murder again, but forcing the Doctor to ignore his do no harm oath in order to accomplish it. But I liked the ends justifies the means philosophy. For once, it was a realistic dilemma in which Federation ideals would not have worked.

The only objection I have is how every element was wrapped up cleanly by the end. Suder is killed. Seska is killed. After a season of telegraphing the baby is Chakotay’s, it turns out to be Culluh’s so it can be gotten rid of conveniently. Speaking of, we never hear of the, Culluh, or the Kazon again, save for a few references. Not that I am complaining too badly. The Kazon were incredibly lackluster villains. What does bug me is how quickly the Talaxians are willing to attack Voyager and how the severe damaged caused by the sabotage efforts are nowhere to be seen in the final moments of the episode. Basically, the whole series has been reset by the closing credits.

“Basics, Part II” is a decent effort, but not as epic as one would hope for a season premiere. It is saved by the on Voyager aspect from the sillier on planet bits. It is worth watching for both, if for no other reason than some laughably bad perils on the planet. Just keep in mind how lopsided the story quality is.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Basics, Part I"

“Basics, Part I” is the second season finale. Along with it concluding chapter in the third season, it features the final scripts written by Michael Piller until Star Trek: Insurrection nearly three years later. Elaboration on his departure and its effect on VOY’s philosophy is better left for tomorrow. Suffice to say, Piller intended his send off to be a game changing cliffhanger that would attract the same amount of attention as TNG’s ”Best of Both Worlds”, a season ending cliffhanger which elevated the show from lukewarm TOS sequel to cultural icon. “Basics, Part I” did not elevate VOY to such heights, but it has its merits.

Said merits are few and far between, however. The Kazon could have hired a skywriter to make, ’We’re taking over the ship!” in letters ten miles long and five miles wide and still be less obvious Voyager heading into a trap. But that is VOY for you. The quality of the story also lends validity to the rumor Piller was so fed up dealing with the other executive producers on the show’s direction, and pounded the script out and left in a rush. Whether that is true is hard to tell, but considering the meandering the third season will suffer before reintroducing the Borg as villains, one suspects Piller was a tempering agent against the other writers. Things might have been far worse, far sooner. Again, those are remarks best left for tomorrow.

Voyager picks up a distress call from Seska. Her baby has been born, and Culluh, genius that he is, has finally figured out the little rug rat ain’t his seed. Chakotay has a crisis of conscience, mostly because he is a jackass. He does not want to rescue his child because he had no consent in Seska using his DNA to get pregnant. I cannot tell if he is now an offensive racial minority deadbeat dad or if he is insisting the father have some say in whether his child is born. Whichever the case, it is out of place considering the rest of the episode. He goes on a vision quest in which his father appears to him. Chakotay tells him--literally--he does not care about the kid because he does not want him. His father metaphorically slaps him in the back of the head for being a jerk, and the race is on.

It is interesting to note that in spite of Chakotay’s reluctance, the crew is ready to go after his son right off the bat. Maquis and Starfleet personnel alike are ready to go charging into overwhelming odds out of loyalty to the commander, but he is not moved. It is pitifully humorous how a rapid planning session around the conference table breaks up and everyone is practically out the door before Chakotay can stop them all to say a meager thanks. Maybe it is due to the usual Star Trek daddy issues. Everyone other than the Sisko family has them.

While heading for Kazon space, the crew encounters the wounded Trena adrift in a shuttle. Trena was Seska’s assistant. He tells them Seska and the baby have been sent to a slave colony of some sort. They alter course for that planet. Everyone in your Adm. Ackbar voice--It’s a trap! Seriously, that is just the first indication. As the ship travels to the planet, it is attacked by smaller Kazon vessels which target a specific, non-essential part of the ship. It is obviously a deliberate plan, but no one stops to speculate on why the kazon would attack that section. Nor does it occur to anyone to secure trena in quarters anywhere until Voyager is about to engage a Kazon fleet.

Janeway does take time out to discuss genetically altering the vegetable garden with the imprisoned psychopath Suder. He is going to play a big part in the conclusioing episode, so Piller has to get him in there somewhere. But it feels incredibly strange to take time out when the ship is being intermittently ambushed to do so. All that should have been gotten out of the way in the teaser or first act before the action started.

Trena is actually a living bomb, so he disables the ship for his buddies to converge, board, and take over. The intermittent attacks were to destroy Janeway’s ability to set the autodestruct. No one bothered to think about that, I guess. The result is a quick, budget saving takeover. We only get to see Culluh, Seska, and Chakotay, Jr. take over the bridge. We learn Seska lied about the kid and claimed Chakotay raped her. Culluh the idiot shrugs and says, ’Okay.” Remember, even though he is that dumb and is mesmerized by technological advancement like water filters, he and his crew repair Voyager in no time and know how to fly it to a nearby primitive world, land on that world, and strand the Voyager crew there. It doth boggle the mind.

The cliffhanger leaves the Doctor and Suder secretly on board with the Kazons and Tom, who may or may not have been killed when his shuttle was hit, to locate Talaxian help while the stranded crew looks for the necessities of life on the near barren planet. Ironic, since the whole issue is their refusal to share creature comfort technology.

There are definitely a lot of flaws which have to be overlooked. Most notably, the crew does not even take the most basic precautions in avoiding the obvious trap, even when evidence piles up that is what is happening. There is not much in the way of characterization, unless you count Chakotay coming across like a immature child, so the episode is not particularly deep, either. The action is pretty exciting, though, and the cliffhanger does make me want to see the conclusion. The bottom line is that is what is intended, so it gets the job done. Underwhelmingly, but it gets the job done.

Rating: *** (out of 5)