Friday, September 30, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Relativity"

Whenever VOY is struggling, it does one of two things. Either it features the doctor in a bittersweet episode wherein he has a human experience or there is a time travel story. The fifth season has now done both within the span of three episodes, so rest assured the series is having trouble. Fortunately, “Relativity” is a fun romp. It ignores any and all continuity and logic, but it is highly entertaining.

Seven--who else?--is recruited by the returning Braxton from the 29th century to locate a time bomb placed on Voyager at some point in the near past. The bomb is set to wipe Voyager completely from the timeline. Braxton removes her from the timeline a split second before the bomb explodes so she can go back in time to find the bomb.

Seven takes a total of four trips. We only witness her last three. The first two ended in her death. She poses as a crewmember while Voyager is still in dry dock, again two years later during a Kazon attack, and contemporarily just before the bomb blows. It is during the Kazon battle she learns the one who planted the bomb is a future version of Braxton who has gone insane because--you will never guess--repairing the timeline from Janeway’s frequent meddling has taken a toll on him. Seven puraues Braxton into contemporary times where she captures him. His first officer then brings janeway into the 29th century with orders to catch Braxton in the past before he can set the bomb in the first place so as to preserve the timeline.

Got all that? It really does not stand up to scrutiny. Future Braxton claims his mental troubles began when he was stranded on Earth from 1967-1996 in the “Future’s End” two part story, but at the end of it, he said he told Janeway he never experienced that timeline. So why does he have problems with it if it when he was never stranded in the past? Why set a bomb that is not going to go off until five years after Braxton planted it? The bomb is going to wipe Voyager and its crew out the timeline completely. We learned from Annerax such a move has vast repercussions, but here, it is just a matter of saving the crew from death. Janeway activates the EMH in dry dock to test him out even though it has been established he was never activated before the ship entered the Delta Quadrant. No one knew Braxton was the culprit, but after his first officer arrests him for future crimes and seven brings in his counterpart from the far future, it is said there are three of them in custody. Where did the other one come from? What did he do and when did they have a chance to capture him? Janeway catches one to make it four in custody. When Torres runs into the time traveling Janeway, she does not notice her hairstyle is completely different even though when Kate Mulgrew is reenacting those scenes in the past, she is wearing a very bad wig to mimic the past style, so an effort was made to get the hair right.

So there are some definite problems with continuity and logic. No matter, though. “Relativity” does not take itself seriously, so neither do I. some of the bits were hilarious. Braxton’s hatred of Janeway fort never minding her own business reminds me more of Yosemite Sam’s “Oooo…I hate that rabbit!’ towards Bugs Bunny than Ahab’s hatred for Moby Dick. It is probably her escapade in the series finale that sends him over the edge. It nearly did me. I also love how the whole time travel/bomb/restoring the timeline is about to be explained to her through techno babble, but Janeway dismisses it and just asks for instructions on what to do to get to Braxton in the past. Is this the first time there has been a refusal to listen to a made up pseudoscientific explanation on this show? It is about time. Jeri Ryan looks nice in a Starfleet uniform, two. Much better than in those exploitive catsuits you have a difficult time imagining anyone would make her wear while on duty.

Braxton has his own amusements. He has been replaced by Bruce McGill. McGill was revealed to be some sot of figure who may have been manipulating Sam Beckett’s time travel in the Quantum Leap finale. There were rumors, probably completely fan based, that Braxton might turn out to be Future Guy on ENT. If so, then McGill would be manipulating Scott Bakula’s time travel yet again. Now we know Brannon Braga and Rick Berman had no clue who Future Guy was, so throw that out the window. It would have been a cool cross science fiction reference if it had panned out.

“Relativity” is flawed, but there is too much to like here for complaints to matter. Do not think about the plot holes too hard, and it might wind up one of your favorites. It is at least a top ten entry for me. I think there is a vibe among the actors the material is poking fun at the show, so they are playing it that way. Think about it. Janeway’s disregard for the rules is the catalyst for the plot. The Doctor has an appearance when he is not supposed to just to spice up the episode. Seven is in the foreground even in the past while the rest of the crew is irrelevant. Chakotay is the only crewmember to disappear in the first act and never return. No one wants to hear the techno babble. ‘Relativity” is completely mocking VOY. The show deserves it.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"11:59"

Do you folks remember thr Millennium Bug? Civilization was supposed to crumble as computers all were to malfunction at the stroke midnight, January 1, 2000? Down here in the Bible belt, there was millennial anxiety of another kind. My roommate and I were traveling on New Year’s Eve from Columbia halfway across state to Greenwood for a former college classmate’s party. Literally every church we passed along the way was packed with people. I had heard a teacher once claim entire countries converted to Christianity in 999 over fear the Rapture would occur in 1000. Forget computer issues. I was surrounded by people with more ancient concerns.

Which is appropriate for “11:59.” It is a very small, subdued story about the clash of philosophies between those who respect the past and those who look towards the future. It is the most unusual VOY episode of the series. There are no aliens, explosions, techno babble solutions to extraordinary problems. Egad, Seven does not even learn anything new about humanity. It is all about Janeway talking about an ancestral hero of hers and learning she was just an ordinary person.

Because of that theme, I could not help but think of the end teasers of Welcome Back, Kotter in which Kotter would tell his wife some obviously untrue story about a fictitious relative of his just to set up a corny joke. Of course, Janeway would have to be more sinister.

“Chakotay, did I ever tell you about my caveman ancestor, Bok?” Janeway asks.

“No, Captain. I don’t believe you have,” Chakotay replies with a smile.

“He invented human sacrifice.” There is a long silence during which Chakotay waits for the punch line. When it does not come, he prods Janeway.

“Aren’t you going to finish the joke? I’m expecting a big payoff.”

“No joke,” Janeway replies. “Just telling you how the family business got started.”

Dead silence. Literally. The woman has racked up a body count in the thousands through her actions in the Delta Quadrant--and does not care. Do recall “Hope and Faith.”

I am playing around with the review for “11:59" because there is not much here. It is a 400 year flashback in which Janeway talks about her ancestor, Shannon O’Donnel, and brilliant engineer and childhood hero. O’Donnel’s car breaks down in the small town of Portage Creek, Indiana, which is not to be confused with carbon Creek, Pennsylvania. According to Star Trek writers, every other town in 20th century America has “Creek” in its name. O’donnel agrees to work in an independent bookstore owned by Henry Janeway, also staying at his home, in order to earn the money to repair her car. O’Donnel learns a corporation wants to build a futuristic community called the Millennium Gate. The townspeople are eager, but Henry is the lone holdout. He refuses to sell his bookstore. If he does not sell by 11:59, December 31, 2000, the deal is off.

Thus sets up the conflict between O’Donnel and Henry. She is a forward looking person who embraces new technology as progress. Henry appreciates the past and thinks it should not be dismissed so easily. Unfortunately, their debate is not over those who forget the lessons of the past are doomed to repeat them. Henry is instead a semi-Luddite who believes man creates technology, then has to spend too much time fixing all the new problems it causes. He is a sympathetic character well played by Kevin Tighe, but at not point are we to ever get the impression he has a point. The episode loudly sings the praises of gene Roddenberry’s idea that advanced technology means social progress for humanity.

It is not so, even superficially in a society in which one junior high kid will murder another for his iPod. How anyone believes the prospect of efficiently exploring space because of warp drive engines will change human nature is beyond me. Soon, there is going to be no one left alive who walked on the moon. No one really cares. No one really cared then, either, other than the desire to win the space race. You certainly cannot call competing with the Soviets uniting humanity in a project to explore space. Nowadays? Even if a kid wants to be an astronaut, I imagine his teachers discourage him because there is no space program of which to speak. So much for advanced technology advancing the human race along with it. The ironic part? Roddenberry signed off on the Borg, a n alien race obsessed with integrating advanced technology into themselves, but without a hint of virtue. In fact, they were terrifying for a long while there. I guess Roddenberry was too business cashing the checks to notice the contradiction.

I got off on an unintended rant there. The thing is, I sympathize with Henry in a lot of ways. I am something of a Luddite myself. I need compelling evidence new technology has value before I will learn how to use it. Many times I discover I like it, but I always have that fear not only is technology getting away from us, but we are losing something valuable in the process. It is not just the notion that we should forget the barbaric past in favor of a brighter future--I vehemently disagree with that--but things lack henry’s bookstore and books in general disappearing in favor of Kindle, etc. I keep my melancholy largely to myself. As a politicall conservative Christian, my ideas are dismissed as a yearning for a mythic vision of the past at best and a new dark Ages at worst. Why bother explaining myself when I have to work against those bad assumptions?

There is a review for “11:59” somewhere here, I promise.

The problem with “11:59” is its lack of heart. So much of it feels scripted rather than natural. The minute you hear Henry’s last name is Janeway, you know everything that is going to happen. It all happens by the book, too. In spite of their differing viewpoints, O’Donnel and Henry hook up. It all happens suddenly, too. Henry changes his mind to sell the bookstore without any real build up to it. O’Donell bites into a chocolate chip cookie and decides she is too connected to Henry and the Millennium Gate, which she is conveniently offered a job working on, to ever leave. A to B to C, solely because that is what the plot demands. It is difficult to buy into it because events do not flow naturally.

An odd bit is that Tom, who has been listening to Janeway’s talk about o’Donnel as some major presence in history, has never heard of her. Convenient that he is such a history buff for 20th century events. I am sure you know lots of people so well versed in 16th century lore they can tell you some random person you name was not a Renassaince painter as you claim. Janeway does more research and discovers o’Donnel was a minor player in the Millennium Gate and future projects. The discovery is not a revelation a childhood hero has feet of clay, but seemingly one that you cannot trust history. The conclusion does fit in with the episode’s misguided message.

At least “11:59” acknowledges the new millenium began on January 1, 2001. Other than Ray Bradbury’s fustrated attempts to get the message through, there were not a lot of mainstream sources promoting that fact. It was too tempting to promote a nice, round number like 2000 as significant. Stuff like that is how history gets revised. I really despise the mixed messages this episode sends.

Nevertheless, I still like it. The powers that be were willing to try something different. Not many shows are willing to experiment in such a way. A lack of writing talent kepps it from being great. The episode has not aged well. It is through no fault of its own. As I noted above, there was not a notable millennium craze. The computers did not fail. The Rapture did not occur. Do you remember anything special about that time/ I do not. Worse yet, any hope for the future was dashed by 9/11. It is hard to think we are advancing when a group of cave dwellers in the desert successfully destroy prominent symbols of modernity like the world Trade Center. Hope for the new millennium when medieval barbarism dominates the first decade of it? Hardly.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Someone to Watch Over Me"

“Someone to Watch Over Me” is a sweetly humorous episode that I enjoy far more than my cynical nature should allow. The only elements of VOY that are consistently working are Seven and the Doctor. It seems natural the two of them should be paired up as often as is reasonably possible. The powers that be will still manage to screw that up in the future, but not now.

The episode is an homage to My Fair Lady or Pygmalion, depending on how far back you wish to carry the allusion. Seven has developed an interest in dating rituals. She has gotten a little too close to Tom and Torres’ intimate relations, so the doctor offers to teach her the finer points of dating. Tom discovers what the Doctor is up to and concludes it is a matter of the blind leading the blind. The two make a wager whether seven will have a date for an ambassador’s reception the following weekend.

Hilarity ensues, of course. The doctor is earnest, but not experienced in the subject matter of love. Seven’s blunt nature steps all over Harry’s feelings when he tries to date her. She sprays lobster all over her first date, a nebbish engineer, before tear a ligament in his shoulder slow dancing. Slowly but surely, the doctor takes a more hands on approach and finds himself falling for Seven. They communicate easily with one another and share common interests. Seven, however, never sees this.

She does accompany the doctor to the ambassador’s reception. She is all about refining her social graces rather than romance. Tom, rude as ever, blurts out the doctor has won the bet. Seven is hurt at the idea the doctor helped her for personal gain, not out of concern. The doctor, who is full blown infatuated at this point, attempts to patch things up. It works, but when it wants to tell seven how he really feels, she she tells him first there is no compatible mate on board the ship. She leaves him with a thank you gift and a broken heart.

The B-story involves the ambassador from a n uptight, Puritan race discovering rich food and alcohol while being escorted about by Neelix. He becomes a drunken, oversexed lout, culminating in an obnoxious outburst and passing out at his own reception. It is so over the top that it does not complement the main story well at all. The ambassador is played by Kids in the Hall Scott Thompson. I never was big on that show. British humor I can handle. Canadian humor does nothing for me. If he is playing a variation on one of his characters from the show, which I assume he is, the novelty of it is lost on me, too. I think the entire plot was a drag on the main story, but I am willing to concede a Kids in the Hall fan may think differently.

Otherwise, “Someone to Watch Over Me” is a really good character piece. Credit where credit is due--VOY more often does these bottle show fillers better than DS9 does. The problem is how often they remain inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The growing relationship between between the doctor and seven is no exception. Subsequent episodes will fall far below this one in quality. She will wind up with Chakotay, of all people, instead of the Doctor.

There are a couple points that make the episode. One is its subtlety. The relationship between the doctor and Seven grows solwly, naturally, and does not address sex. As I have noted numerous about such episodes before, Star Trek believes romance and sex are synonymous. I blame it on the numerous fourteen year old virgins who tuned in every week back in the day. The second point is the issue of whether the doctor is sentient and can literally have romantic feelings is ignored. Under certain circumstances, my skeptical, nitpicking nature would hate that, but the question would bog down “Someone to Watch Over Me” while robbing it of emotion. I am glad the powers that be skipped out on any existential questions, if only this once.

I recommend “Someone to Watch Over Me.” There is no alien menace. It is all often bittersweet humor that works well because Robert Picardo and Jeri Ryan clearly like each other. It shines through in their characters. I could have done without Scott Thompson’s antics. They might have cost the episode a star in the ratings. Otherwise, I think the episode is one of the best of the season.

Rating; **** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Juggernaut"

The Captain Planet-esque villains the Malon are back, even though they should be 25,000 light years behind Voyager. Does this show not have a story editor maintaining continuity, or do the powers that be just not care anymore? Whichever the case, the Malon’s return is the catalyst for a generic race against the clock story against the backdrop of Torres’ anger management issues.

A Malon toxic waste transport malfunctions. The leaking radiation kills most of the crew. The transport is going to explode in a few hours. The explosion will spew toxic waste across three light years of inhabited space. Voyager responds to the survivors’ distress call. The crew offers to help. Torres is the expert on the away team even though she is struggling with anger management issues. There is lot of crawling, running, and jumping through the severely damaged transport. There is a villain revealed towards the end--a Malon dying a radiation poisoning who wants to blow up the ship in revenge. Torrs tries to reason with him, realizes that will not work, and then cuts loose on him. The day is saved. Torres is conflicted because she has been told to keep her emotions in check, but it was her violent impulses that saved the day. As much angst as VOY writers can manage ensues. She is television friendly naked during said angst so you will not notice the lackluster presentation of emotional turmoil.

The above summary is short and punchy because that is the nature of the episode. It is a pure point A to B to C story that is not elevated beyond typical action movie scenario by Torres’ anger issues. For one thing, it is difficult to sympathize with torres at this point. The character progresses and regresses with her emotional problems as the current episode requires. Where is the character growth? Why should I care how she is dealing with her problems when they are going to disappear next week only to reemerge the wekk after, only worse and--ooh--side boob! Nice. Um…where was I?

You get the idea.

I am not a big fan of the Malon, either. The Captain Planet analogy is apt. The cartoon villains the hero faced were one dimensional maniacs who polluted the environment just to be evil. Contrary to lefty fantasy, real polluters do not affect the environment out of pure villainy. It is negligence or corner cutting. The Malon dump their toxic waste because they do not care about anyone else and have demonstrated a willingness to attack anyone attempting to stop them. I have difficult time getting into them because I do not accept they would really do such a thing. I cannot even chalk their actions up to an alien rationale because the VOY writers clearly mean for the malon to represent corporate polluters.

It is not good storytelling to introduce a villain in the final act, nor is it very original to have said villain seeking revenge for his impending death because of his exposure to toxic waste,. At least he is not the mustache twirling villain the rest of the Malon come off as. He has some motivation for his actions, insane though it may be. Given the four writers credited on the script and his seemingly last minute involvement in the resolution, I suspect he is a late rewrite inclusion. Oft rewritten scripts rarely turn out well.

What is “Juggernaut” about? I have no idea. The environmentalism plot is so paint by numbers, it says nothing about the issue of toxic waste disposal. If that is supposed to be secondary to torres’ inner conflict, it does not fly. Is torres supposed to cast her anger aside and be more diplomatic/ if so, then why have her loss of anger succeed where her diplomacy failed/ I will concede the writers probably hope the contradiction is dramatic and will generate audience sympathy for her. On a show with better writers, it might, but since Torres is going to be completely in control until another story requires or not to be, it is difficult to care.

Call this nitpicking if you wish, but Neelix goes along on the mission to the transport to serve as a field medic in case the radiation for which the away team has been inoculated has any unexpected effects. Why Neelix/ Because tom, the regular field medic, is in a romantic relationship--by Star Trek standards, at any rate--and might serve as a calming influence on her. It is manufactured drama made worse because…well, it is Neelix as his replacement. Like the episode can afford to lose anymore credibility.

“Juggernaut” is Sandra Bullock’s Speed 2 meets Adam Sandler’s Anger Management. The two do not go together like chocolate and peanut better. There is a lot of eye candy on screen--atmospheric sets and special effects, not just Roxann Dawson with no shirt--but style over substance cannot carry cannot carry an hour of dramatic television. This one is for the cheap date torres fans only. Which is a shame. She is a highly underused character.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Think Tank"

No matter how brilliant the man, he can always be mesmerized by a pair of breasts. Even Janeway’s. I like her smug look. Yes, they are real--and they are spectacular!

“Think Tank" is the "special” episode in which Jason Alexander made his first big acting appearance after Seinfeld took its final bow nearly a year before. Alexander is known to be a Trekkie. I think it is generally neat when famous fans make a guest appearance. That said, I am not a big fan of Seinfeld, so the novelty of heorge Costanza as an alien is not going to be a factor in my review. I thought it would be wise to get that out of the way.

I have mixed emotions about “Think Tank.” I appreciate it because it is different. The Think Tank itself is a genuinely weird creation rather than some typical alien species with a ship comparable to Voyager to battle. Their appearance sets up an intriguing concept by offering Seven a chance to change her life completely in a far better way than by serving as the Borg Queen’s lackey. There is even a hint of nostalgia for how much the plot feels like a TOS episode. But “Think Tank” falls apart in its implausible resolution and glaring continuity errors along the way. I do I rate a cool concept that is rife with errors and peters out towards the end? It is a tough choice.

Voyager comes under attack by a species of bounty hunters known as the Hazari. The ship is completely surrounded, and the crew has no idea how to escape. Salvation arrives in the form of Kurros and the Think Tank. They are a bunch of misfit geniuses how offer solutions to problems in exchange for unique items. Janeway is skeptical, but she is eventually won over once she realizes Voyager cannot escape without their help. The Think Tank sets its price. It is mostly recipes and various cultural items they have never seen before, but janeway nixes the deal at their biggest request--Seven.

The scene between Kurros and Janeway is unintentionally funny if you have been following my view of Janeway. When she learns the Think Tank wants seven, she calls the whole deal off. But Kurros asks her if she ought not check with Seven to see if she would like to join the Think Tank willingly. It apparently never occurred to Janeway Seven might appreciate the opportunity because she is so accustomed to controlling every aspect of her crew’s lives, but Seven’s in particular. It is hilarious to watch janeway suddenly realize she cannot speak on behalf of Seven on such a matter.

“Think Tank” looks like it could take an interesting turn when the plot seems to shift to Seven’s decision. As Kurros points out, she is doing little more than tedious errands for ship’s operations on Voyager when she could be working through challenging problems whose solution could have huge impact. She is intrigued by the prospect, but turns Kurros down because she now feels like she belongs on Voyager. I would like to have seen her contemplation drawn out more. Honestly, the eccentric Think Tank feels like a better fit for her personality, but seven gives the offer virtually no thought.

The plot degrades from there as we learn the Think Tank orchestrated the whole plot with the Hazari in order to force seven to join them. Once the ruse has been uncovered, Voyager and the Hazari team up to con the Think Tank so they can all escape with seven still safely a member of the crew. The big problem here is the con job is not that clever--Seven pretends to join so she can disable the Think Tank’s shields and gets beamed out before the Hazari attack. The concept is to outthink the Think Tank by cheating, but surely they could have seen that coming. What kind of geniuses are these guys? Answer--the kind created by Brannon Braga and Rick Berman in a preview of the idiocy that will be ENT.

I mentioned glaring continuity errors. When talking about the Think Tank’s past good deeds, he says they cured the Phage. But the Vidiians are 40,000 light years away at this point. How did the Think tank pull that off? If they can travel that distance in far less than forty years, why does it not occur to Janeway to ask them how they pulled it off? Or ask for some other solution to get back to the alpha Quadrant? When speculating on who might have hired the Hazari, Chakotay suggests the Malon or Devore. However, Voyager has traveled some 25,000 light years since encountering either one. Just how far does their space expand? Or are we just throwing continuity out the window these days/ it is a well known fact Braga and Berman do not care much for the concept.

A final verdict is difficult to reach. “Think Tank” ought to earn a low score for it missed opportunities and errors any marginally astute fan could identify. The Think Tank is not all that bright if they can fall for Janeway’s “cheating” them. For that matter, have they really done enough to merit implied deaths at the hands of the Hazari? Janeway thinks so. You really should not mess with that woman. Death is her middle name. Yet in spite of all these issues, “Think Tank” is highly entertaining. I am not entirely certain why. Whatever its appeal, I recommend the episode. It is not great, but in spite of its careless flaws, it is not bad, either.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Fight"

There has been a noticeable change in VOY’s fifth season, but I have avoided mentioning it because I knew "The Fight” would be the best opportunity to point it out. Chacotay has been seriously marginalized all season long. The character has been relegated to spouting off hand comments and techno babble which could easily have been spoken by other characters. No episode has featured him prominently, and any that comer close have still focused heavily on another character. Chakotay has “died” twice this season and neither time was the key emotional moment of the respective episode.

To understand how unusual this is, think back to other first officers in ;Star Trek history: Spock, Riker, Kira, and T’Pol there are not many episodes of their shows in which they did not play strong, assertive roles even when they were not the central character. (I am being generous with T’Pol for you ENT fans silently weeping in the corner. She was a Playboy bunny with pointy ears at most all times.) Chakotay has not been as fortunate. It has been an issue from the beginning. Even in episodes in which the character is explored, he has often comes across as a shallow, politically correct Native American stereotype at best, a complete jerk at worst. Episodes that are not Chakotay-centric frequently feature him gelded by Janeway. She enjoys hanging his testicles on a chain around her neck.

Robert Beltran was becoming more publicly vocal about his distaste for the show. In spite of the tight control paramount public relations kept on the smiley face that was supposed to represent the Star Trek production office, certain writers fired back. One can only imagine the tensions that were really going on. One assumes the marginalization of Chakotay is a direct result of Robert Beltran’s behavior. I will note two points in his defense. One, this is around about the time speculation grew that Janeway might be killed off because Kate Mulgrew wanted out. Yet she stayed until the end without her character ever being noticeably diminished. Two, “The Fight.” while Chacotay gets the stuffing knocked out of him the entire episode, it is quite a good script for Beltran. Written as an attempt to bury the hatchet, perhaps?

Note I call it a good script, and not a great one. It is written by Joe Menosky. He is about as avant garde as a television writer can be. “The Fight” is a prominent example. It is a weird, existential story that often comes across as style over substance, but its heart is in the right place. I suppose there is some satisfaction watching Chakotay getting punched in the face through much of it as well. I cannot say it does much for me. Surprisingly, I am not that sadistic. Go figure.

Voyager becomes trapped in a random phenomena called chaotic space in which the laws of physics do not apply. Shades of the Delphic Expanse, there. The aliens who live in chaotic space have no desire to harm those who get trapped, so they attempt to communicate with anyone who does to let them know how to escape. This time around, they can only communicate with Chakotay because he has an hereditary gene for senility. It was a gentic defect repaired before he was born, but it has always hung over him like a shadow because he watched his great-grandfather die a crazy old man.

His mind cannot handle the stress of listening to the loud cacophony of voices, so to deal with it, he keeps visualizing the conversation as a boxing match he recently fought on the holodeck. The *ahem* Maquis Marauder has a never before mentioned and hereafter completely ignored interest in boxing. It is supposed to visualize his fight against losing his mind, but it is tough to do that when the surreal sequence is crazier than a Keith Richards fever dream.

The fight is done in roughly the same style as the visions characters have when communing with the prophets on DS9 but far more manic and chaotic than the symbolic imager of the former. It has less impact as well, but I can see why it is done in such a hyperkinetic, quick cut manner. That is the way an intense boxing match is supposed to go. So it makes sense. It just does not translate well to television. The communication is successful, and chakotay follows the instructions to get the ship out safely.

“The Fight” has two prominent guest stars. Ray Walston returns as Boothby. He plays Mick to Chakotay’s Rocky. Walston was suffering from Alzheimer’s at the time, so there is an added poignancy to Chakotay’s fear of becoming senile like his great-grandfather. Speaking of, the great-grandfather is played by Ned Romero during a vision quest. Any hoary Native American you have seen on television or in movies is played either Romero or Graham Greene. They have both had long careers beginning in the days when westerns ruled television.

‘The Fight” is not a great episode by any stretch. It stands out for two reasons. One, it is incredibly weird. Two, it really is the last time in the series Chakotay has an episode all to himself. He figures prominently in others, of course, but he shares the spotlight with Seven. As we all know, Seven dominates any episode in which she has the spotlight for any length of time. I want to like it more than I can muster because of those reasons. As it is, one should watch “The Fight” merely to marvel that something as strange as its premise ever got on the air.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Course: Oblivion"

There are not many episodes of VOY which merit a sequel. On that very short list, “Demons” is no where to be found. The very concept of an environmentally hostile planet creating duplicates of the ship and crew which can survive in that environment is one of those ideas so far out there, it is a bad on the surface. Yet said episode not only exists, but someone decided merit’s a second go around.

For the first act, we only have suspicions something is up. It features the wedding of tom and Torres--pant, pant, you shippers out there--and tom eventually wears lieutenant pips, not ensign, so he has not been demoted like the real Tom. The ship begins to literally deteriorate, which could arguably be the plot of a regular VOY episode. It is not until Torres grows ill and dies we learn something is up. Upon her death, the crew discovers they are the duplicates.

They are faced with a decision that does not seem so tough--go home, or proceed to Earth as planned. The former means salvation. The latter is certain death. Janeway, who suspects the crew will not survive the nine month journey back to the Demon Planet, presses on towards Earth. She faces a near mutiny as the crew begins to accept who they really are. They may have the memories of the real McCoys, but they belong on the Demon Planet. The crew begins dropping like flies, but Janeway does not yield until Chakotay keels over dead. Only then does she decide to turn around. Eventually, she succumbs herself, leaving Harry and a skeleton crew in charge. In a stroke of luck, they discover the real Voyager, but completely dissolve before help arrives. Okay, so it was a stroke of Harry’s hard luck, but luck nevertheless.

I have no idea what the point of “Course: Oblivion” is. From Janeway’s inexplicable obsession with continuing towards earth even though she and everyone else knows they will die if they do to the grossly cynical ending, I do not know what to make of it. It looks like it is nothing more than an excuse to show off the melting wax figure make up jobs on the actors as they slowly deteriorate. Those are impressive, mind you, but they qualify as window dressing. There needs to be something to say, or at the very least some action to satisfy viewers. All I got out of it is that janeway’s duplicate is even more homicidal crazy than she is. I hope that is not what I was supposed to get out of it.

There are other issues. It was a major plot point in “Demon” that duplicates could not leave the planet. So how are they traveling in space? If they are plotting the same course to earth as the real Voyager, how come they run into it while backtracking? Never mind that Voyager is twenty thousand light years ahead of where it should normally be thanks to the Borg warp coil boost. Perhaps ’course: Oblivion” was meant for earlier in the season, so the last issue might have been a moot point, but the fact is a problem is created by the episode order as aired. In better episodes, such can be overlooked. But not here.

I will grant that “Course: Oblivion” is marginally better than “Demons,” but that is not saying much. The make up work is impressive, but not enough to merit sitting through the episode. I was not even amused by Janeway’s even more than usual unhinged behavior. This is just a bad episode all around.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Friday, September 23, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Disease"

“The Disease” is one of those truly awful VOY episodes in which I wish I could have sat in on the pitch session so I could see for myself whether the powers that be genuinely thought this was a good idea or if they were trying to kill the show so they could move onto a better project. The episode’s plot can be summed up in four words which should never be strung together: Harry gets an STD.

Casting aside for a moment the sheer stupidity of that idea, I have have two major objections in addition to it. One is the inspiration for the episode. It originally aired in late winter 1999. This is shortly after the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal wound down with Clinton avoiding a conviction on perjury and obstruction of justice charges. There is no direct commentary on the scandal in “The Disease,” but the timing is certainly not a coincidence. The other reason is the backdrop of the story. Voyager is aiding a generational ship, which is a fascinating staple of science fiction ripe with story ideas. But the generational ship has to take a backseat to Harry contracting a venereal disease. It is kind of like the writers said, “Let’s come up with a really good idea, then toss it aside in favor of a Porky’s movie.”

The voyager crew has been helping a xenophobic alien species known as the Varo with rebuilding their engine on their ship. The varo have been traveling for four hundred years. In that time, they have built onto their ship as needed in order to house their growing population. For whatever reason, they decided to add on in a a straight line, so cracks are also starting to form under the pressure. Or so it seems. There is actually a separatist group at were who is tired of living isolated lives, so they have manufactured a synthetic virus to eat away at the ship in strategic places in order to break it apart in separate ships so everyone can go their own way. But do not concern yourself with all that static. The episode is not about the illogic of xenophobia or allowing freedom of self-determination. It is about you know what.

Harry has fallen for a Varo named Tal in the two weeks he has been working on the ship. One night, in the heat of the moment, they sleep together. All of the sudden, it is a serious violation of the rules for a Starfleet officer to engage in a relationship with an alien even though it has been done numerous times before, including several times on VOY with impunity. Where did this rule suddenly come from? Wherever it originated, Harry knows of it and tries to cover up his affair, but cannot because the symptoms of his STD become too obvious to conceal.

By the way, this is the girl with whom Harry slept, Musetta Vander:He has taste, I will give him that.

The doctor is required to report the disease to Janeway. She comes down hard on him with an official reprimand and an order to break off the relationship. Both Harry and tal know their relationship will last only a few days anyway. They have a conversation about how they are going to go their separate ways regardless of their love for each other. In spite of that, Harry has a childish tantrum at Janeway for ordering him to break off the relationship. What right does she have to control his romantic relationships/ Well, according to Starfleet regulations, total control. She enjoys wielding it, too.

Tal turns out to be the leader of the separatist group, so all of harry’s insubordination--and there is more than one incident after the first sexual encounter--is all for naught. She forgets him and heads off to perform the formerly forbidden task of studying nebulae. (I looked it up. Spelled right, darn it.) Harry mopes, and Seven learns a lesson about love by indifferently observing his pain. *Sniff* It is so beautiful.

What an awful episode. Kenneth Biller writes yet another cellar dweller. There is absolutely nothing about this that explores Harry as it was obviously intended. He comes across looking like an immature teenager rather than an edgier man now that he has disobeyed orders over a woman. Even after that, I think the biggest sin is the wasted generational ship conflict, which probably would have made for an interesting episode itself, was an afterthought to break up the whiny Harry and his social disease saga. What a waste of time. This is why Garrett Wang stayed, but Jennifer Lein had to go? Seriously?

Rating: * (out of 5)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Dark Frontier"

This is my lucky day--”Dark Frontier” is the first two hour episode in the history of Star Trek that is not a premiere or finale. Before anyone gets their panties in a wad, I consider DS9’s “The Way of the Warrior” a premiere because it adds Worf to the cast while shifting the emphasis of the series away from Bajoran and Cardassian religious/political strife. Supposedly, the airing of “The Killing Game, Part I/II” last season was so successful, the powers that be decided to film a movie. The truth is likely an attempt to shore up VOY’s sagging ratings and UPN’s falling fortunes by reintroducing the Borg and especially the Borg Queen.

Take you pick which rationale you think is the most likely, but ’Dark Frontier” throws in every popular notion available to the VOY creators. It could very well be subtitled The Last Temptation of Seven . The are huge, special effects laden battle sequences and borg settings. The Borg Queen is back for the first time since 1996. I cannot forget that Janeway is back and crazier than ever. Hypocritical, too. With the exception of some quite laughable budget saving bits, “Dark Frontier” is the ultimate VOY story.

The episode begins with a bang--literally. Voyager encounters one of those Twinkie shaped Borg ships and destroys it by beaming over a torpedo during one of the shield remoulations. Janeway decides to beam over the wreckage to see if anything can be salvaged. There is a treasure trove of technology and tactical data, including the exobiology notes of seven’s parents. When the tactical data identifies a borg sphere limping home after suffering damage in an ion storm, Janeway hatches a plan to attack the sphere and steal its transwarp core. With tramway technology, the crew can shave decades off their journey home.

I would not be doing my job here if I did not mention that Janeway is being a hypocrite here. She has punished members of her crew for hatching plans to use alien technology and power sources on more than one occasion. She has also risked everyone’s lives because she has refused to share their technology with the Kazon. She and Leonardo Da Vinci have risked themselves in order to recover technology stolen from Voyager. In many of the instances I just mentioned, the situation was dire, so Janeway either sacrificed more than is reasonable to maintain her principles, or recklessly took risks to recover stolen technology. Here, neither of those is true. She just tosses her principles to the wind and decides to steal something that will help them get home faster, but at a greater risk than any other time the issue has arisen. Ergo, she is hypocritical and crazy.

In the midst of the planning of the Ocean’s 11 caper, Seven sorts through her parents’ data on the Borg. Scattered throughout “Dark Frontier” are continuity busting flashbacks of the Hansens studying the Borga full decade before Q flung the Enterprise into the Delta Quadrant for the first encounter. (Do. Not. Mention. ENT. “Regeneration.” Thanks. This old comic book geek can only handle so much retroactive continuity without Roy Thomas to write a reconciliation of the inconsistencies. Kudos to anyone who gets that reference.) continuity issues aside, the flashbacks are effectively tense, as we know what tragic event they are moving us closer to viewing. They are very well done, right up there with the best of Lost.

Janeway runs her away team through holodeck simulations in order to get the robbery down pat. She worries because seven appears uncomfortable and hesitant. In a situation like this, that can get them killed. Janeway has good reason to worry. The Borg Queen has been secretly communicating with Seven. Bnow she has been given an ultimatum--rejoin the collective, or Voyager will be assimilated. Janeway, who is not aware of any of this, takes Seven off the away team. Seven, who still does not tell Janeway the whole story, argues until she is reinstated.

Remember I said there were a couple laughable budget saving moments? The first comes during the actual mission on the sphere. The exact same footage, which is not even redubbed with different dialogue, from the holodeck training scenario is used for the real McCoy. Star Trek reuses effects shots all the time, but entire sequences, dialogue included? I supposed it is supposed to indicate the away team is a well oiled machine, but still. The audience knows the real reason. New footage begins when, as Janeway is about to successfully flee with the transwarp coil, Seven opts to stay behind to rejoin the collective. The away team has no choice but to leave Seven behind. They are allowed to escape per the borg Queen’s agreement with Seven.

It is at this point “Dark frontier” really becomes interesting. The borg queen offers Seven--no pun intended--the best of both worldss. She can return to them, but keep her individuality intact. She is more valuable to the collective that way. But seven has sacrificed herself for the sake of saving the Voyager crew she feels a loyalty to them--a loyalty which is not being returned, by and large. Torres has gone through her personal logs to learn how to install the transwarp coil and is nonchalant about the personal violation because she has already written seven off. Neelix suggest shutting off Seven alcove to conserve energy. Chakotay essentially shrugs and says he always figured she would leave at some point. Indeed, it has only been recently Seven would avoid the Borg if given a choice. Now she is in a spot where she can go home, have pretty much the best way possible, but she is pulled by loyalty to a crew who does not give a crap about her. Joke is on her, too. The audience is the only one who knows how the Voyager crew feels.

I do not believe the writers intend for the crew to be so cold. Rather, I think the story is meant to be about the relationship between Janeway and Seven. It looks to be Janeway is the only one who cares seven is gone. We would not care about that as much if the rest of the crew were bummed, too. Of course, they do come across looking like selfish jackasses, but there you go. A lot of fans consier the Janeway/Seven relationship to be a surrogate mother/daughter one. I have felt more likr Seven was a personal project for janeway instead, but I am going to cast aside my cynicism over the issue for one thing--Naomi.

Naomi insists upon seeing janeway. She has become very attached to Seven, so has devised a rescue plan that actually has some merit, since it involves tracking Seven’s implants. Precocious kid. Janeway proves for the first time she actually possesses maternal instincts by honestly dealing with Naomi, assuring her Seven is not going to be abandoned, and allowin her in on the initial planning of the rescue. It is sweet and genuine, not a strained, emotionally fake encounter with a child like Picard would have. Or even Sisko, who is a father, but would still sternly demand Naomi be realistic about the situation. Seven could be halfway across the Delta Quadrant by now.

She is, by the way. The Borg have built on impressive city in space for the sake of…well, having a city in space. The Borg Queen has noticed seven’s less than enthusiastic response to rejoining them, so she sets up an assimilation scenario in which Seven will have to take part, even in the most superficial way, in order to survive. The borg attempt to assimilate a species of 200,000 people. Seven has to improvise a shield modulation in order to survive the initial attack. She cannot bring herself to aid in the actually assimilation. In fact, she helps the lone four survivors escape. This is the other busget saving bit. None of the four utter a word during the entire rescue sequence even though seven has a string of dialogue directed at them. Are they too frightened to speak? Nope. It is solely because if they have any dialogue, SAG rules says they cannot be paid at the lower level extras are. Heh.

Back on Voyager, they have managed to use Naomi’s idea to locate Seven and hook up the transwarp coil to the delta flyer in order to get there faster. They have even hooked up some techno babble shield Seven’s father used to get up close and personal with the Borg undetected. Chakotay warns the Hansens were assimilated because they got overconfident. Janeway replies tish tosh. She is just going to take the delta flyer into the heart of their territory, invade their biggest, most well defended city, fight her way to the queen’s throne room, rescue Seven, and get back out again. No over confidence there.

I guess there truly is not, because the plan works. In the throne room, Seven is faced with the choice of staying with the Queen, who has brought in her assimilated father to sweeten the deal, or Janeway, who is barking orders at her to leave with her. It sounds like seven is scrwedc either way. The tipping point is the Borg Queen’s intentions for seven. She is to help manufacture a slow acting nanotech plague on Earth which will slowly assimilate humanity. By the time the people figure out the plan was stolen from the Drakh on Crusade, it will be too late for Warner brothers to sue Paramount for plagiarism. Er..I mean humanity to save itself. Seven chooses to let Janeway boss her around, so they all escape safely. For good measure, the ending is Janeway ordering Seven to regenerate against her will. You made the right choice, Seven.

As a bonus, the transwarp coil works only just enough to shave twenty years off the journey before it burns out and can conveniently never be used again. So the risk was worth it, but we can still have two and a half more seasons because it will only work once. Pat the course for VOY.

“Dark Frontier” has some definite flaws. Janeway’s behavior is inconsistent with how she has acted before and will act in the future. The Hansens’ knowledge of the Borg ten years before anyone could have known about them is a big continuity glitch. The spectacular special effects scenes like the space battles, the Borg Queen assembling herself, and the city in space are impressive, and their obvious expense actentuates the cost cutting measures in several other scenes. Truth be told, the whole ending rescue has to be rushed because of timre constraints, so it stretches credibility to the breaking point with how easy it is to pull off successfully. seven never mentions saving her father would be nice, nor is she reunited onscreen with Naomi, which would also have been a nice touch. Whatever happened to that Drakh plague plot, too? The Borg never used it. Warner Brothers legal department must be quite resourceful to have reached into the Delta Quadrant.

Forget the flaws, though. “Dark Frontier” is really good in spite of them. Credit where credit is due, it does offer a solid exploration of Seven. I was a bit snarjky at times, but her inner conflict over who she is, who she wants to be, and where she belongs is the best we are going to get in the series. There is a goos mix of action and drama, as well. There is a lot going on, with a lot of different storytelling techniques--flashbacks, dream sequences, special effects shots, and reams of dialogue. At times, the episode feels overly kinetic, but it is still a cannot miss.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Bliss"

The basic premise of VOY--encountering strange new worlds and civilizations by necessity, since the ship is lost far from home--has inspired many to say the series is closest to TOS in natures among all other Star Trek. The comparison has been apt in many other ways, too, not the least of which has been goofy plots that would barely pass muster in the ’60’s. If you have been steadily reading my reviews, you have a good idea how well I think they fly in the ’90’s.

“bliss’ is a decent example of a TOS episode transferred to the ’90’s. More specifically, it is “The Immunity Syndrome.” you may recall that episode features a giant ameoba that consumes ships and must be destroyed. That is pretty much “bliss” with the edition of some heavy Moby Dick allegory with the alien of the week. Oh, and in the kinder, gentler Al Gore environmentally conscious ’90’s, they cannot kill the creature even if it is eating the ship with all hands aboard. They have to make it barf. Really.

Do not get the impression I do not like this episode. There is a lot to like here. Along the same vein of ”Bride of Chaotica,” the episode is goofy fun that neither you, now the cast take seriously. At least you should not. Virtually none of the story elements are original. There are some gaping plot holes, too. But Lord help me, I think I am getting used to the idea that is the best VOY can do, so I just go with it.

The ship runs across an anomaly that turns out to be a wormhole leading directly to Earth. The odds of finding something like that are infinitesimal, so the crew greets the discovery with skepticism. However, they slowly begin to come around, and when they receive letters from Starfleet in response to a provbe sent in, they buy it hook line and sinker. We begin to realize something is up because the letters tell the crew everything they want to hear--Chakotay has been pardoned, tom’s father is not a jerk, Janeway’s fiance after Gilligan and the Skipper helped the bride escape after she got cold feet (I kid, I kid) and the Maquis are still alive--and everyone is a completely uncritical cultist over the prospect of going home.

Only Seven, the doctor, and Naomi are unaffected. The crew swiftly acts to shut off the Doctor’s program and stymie seven in her subsequent effort to shut down the engines. The doctor is a hologram and Seven is a borg, so that explains why they are unaffected by the creature’s mind control, but no explanation is given for Naomi. The writers needed some excuse to get the plucky kid to further bond with Seven, so--boom--she is unaffected. Which is actually fine with me. Naomi provides some sweet and funny moments as she both follows seven orders at times and clings to her like the scared little girl she is at others. For once, Star Trek does a kid right after the entire crew, with the exception of them, is rendered unconscious. Not habit forming, I am afraid.

Naomi is not enough to bounce ideas off, so when the ship enters the creature in spite of Seven’s efforts, she beams over the occupant of another ship trapped inside to help. He is Qatal, played by W. Morgan Sheppard, father of Mark. Mark Sheppard will appear in the seventh season himself, but he is always going to be the bitterly sarcastic Romo lampkin from Battlestar Galactica to me. Qatal is the Captain Ahab to the creature’s Moby Dick. The final two acts of “Bliss” are given over to long monologues about the damage the creature has done in his 39 years of pursuing it, the thousands of lives lost , and the need to kill it in order to escape. But he assures all parties he is not obsessed. He is the stereotype of every grizzled old sailor out there. No surprises, but still amusing.

It is Watal who urges them to kill the creature, but the revived doctor assures him the federation does not do anything like that anymore. I could almost picture janeway waking up and saying, “I do,” before the doctor bonks her on the head to knock her out for contradicting him. That might violate the do no harm thing, though. There is not much of a moral debate. They make the creature bard them up, then establish a beacon which warns other ships to stay away. The episode ends with Watal rentering the creature in his ship to either kill ort be killed. We are not shown which.

There are three problems with “Bliss.” One, the creature is said to not be intelligent. It acts only on higher instinct. This point is brought up for the blink and you will miss it moral debate over whether to kill it. But how does a creature without intelligence influence the crew so easily? How does it fool the sensors into showing it is a wormhole/? How does it know to stop Seven and the Doctor’s efforts to keep the ship away from it? That is some higher instincts there. Two, how can every system be rerouted to engineering for Seven to run the ship completely with ease? Does Voyager even need a full crew? Finally, Naomi has a gash on her face from the bumpy ride when the ship is swallowed. The doctor never even mentions it, much less seals the wound for her. It is a minor quibble, but it bugs me regardless.

In spite of the flaws, “Bliss” is a fun episode. Again, if you do not think too much about it. There is not much original about it. A lot of things do not logically add up. Yet there is still a big entertainment factor. Any story centered around Seven and the Doctor is generally worthwhile. Naomi is even growing on me here. I have to recommend “Bliss’ in spite of itself. It is a better episode than it has any logical right to be.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Gravity"

“Gravity” is the second VOY episode written by Nick Sagan, son of Carl, and the first in which he has top billing, so one would assume the pointless techno babble and high concept science will now take a backseat to realism. No such luck, folks. Sagan may be the first voice aliens will hear from the Voyager II probe (“Hello from the children of Earth”) but he was also a writer for Captain Simian and the space Monkeys, so one should get one’s hopes up too much.

“Gravity” continues the fifth season trend, for better and for worse, of character driven stories spotlighting on an individual suffering unusual emotional turmoil at the end of which nothing more is ever said of it. So far, we have had torres unable to deal with the massacre of the Maquis, neelix traumatized by the wartime death of his family, Tom moved to ecoterrorism because of his love of the ocean, and the Doctor unable to come to terms with allowing one patient to die in order to save another under circumstance impossible to save both. If you want to count Janeway suffering a broken heart because of betrayal, feel free, but that is the least convincing of the motif as far as I am concerned. When it comes to romantic relationships, Star trek fumbles the ball pretty much every time. But “Gravity” is as close to success with the concept as it as come in a while.

Tuvok, Tom, and the Doctor are on a shuttle mission when they get caught in a gravity well--a sinkhole in space--and crash on a deset planet. Lots of other ships have been caught in the sinkhole, so there are plenty of marauders to fend off. The two befriend a woman named Noss, played by Lori Petty, after took saves her from a group of attackers. She begins developing feelings for him, which he struggles to resist.

As a matter of dramatic convenience, there is a discrepancy between the passage of time inside the sinkhole and out. Tuvok, Tom, and the doctor feel like they have been stranded for two months while only two days have passed for Voyager, so even though the ship is still searching for the away team, they assume they have been abandoned. Because of the ”abandonment,” Tom nudges Tuvok to pursue a relationship with Noss in his usual ultra sensitive way (“You’re never going to see your wife again, anyway. If she is as logical as you are, she’ll agree.’) and surprisingly, Tuvok struggles with the idea.

Tuvok’s struggle with his emotions is the crux of the story. Voyager comes up with an easy plan to beam them out once the away team has been discovered, so the drama of the rescue has to be manufactured. It is, badly. Nosh has been on the planeyt for fourteen years protected by a force field the marauders have just now, a few minutes before a beam they do not know is coming, decide to attack her shelter. Oh, yeah, the sinkhole is finally able to collapse, too. The collapse will kill everyone inside. After at least fourteen years of no problems. Bad luck truly does follow the Voyager crew around.

While took will admit he admires Noss’ ability to survive in such a harsh environment, he will not admit he has developed an emotional attachment for her. She reminds him of a girl he knew in his youth for whom he nearly lost his mind. To forget her, he lived with a philosophy master for months in order to learn to control his emotions. Presumably, that is the Vulcan equivalent of joining the Foreign Legion. He is having a difficult time suppressing his attachment for Noss now. After their rescue, he melds with her so she can understand how he felt before she returns to her home planet.

I have made no secret I think Tuvok comes across as a jerk. In some ways, he is even worse than those far out of character Vulcans on ENT. Any attempt to soften him up is welcome. Yet I think this could have been done much better. Lori Petty is not exactly the actress I would choose for a love interest for Tuvok. She is ingrained in my mind as being a free spirited hippy or pun. Considering her acting career has stalled as she has aged out of those types of roles, I am probably not alone in thinking that. Sure, there is an opposites attract factor at work, but this pairing is far too polar opposite to be believed. There is no chemistry between Petty and tim Russ. Like many Star Trek romances, we are supposed to believe an emotional bond exists because the writers say it does. They put forth a noble effort here, but it is a no go.

I will give “Gravity” points for exploring Tuvok, but there are so many things about the potential romance that could have been done better. As soon as the romantic angle became obvious, I started speculating on far better actresses to pull off the role of Noss than Petty. Then I nized it, because usually a soap opera star or otherwise unknow gets tapped for these things. But the point stands-Petty was miscast. The rest of the drama was so stereotypical of these types of stranded in a hostile environment conditions that if one was asked what was to come next, anyone who has watched any television at all could guess they will be attacked by the bad guys at the last minute and saved just before the sinkhole collapses. Nevertheless, ’Gravity” at least makes an effort to distinguish love from sex, so it earns a point for that. Noty much else, though. In fact, I suspect the Doctor was added to the script as an afterthought in order for Robert Picardo to add some color to it. He does little than quip some one liners. That do not amount to much.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Monday, September 19, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Bride of Chaotica"

Allow me to preface my review for “Bride of Chaotica” with an admission I have an odd affection for serials that dates back to my earliest days of attending comic book conventions. Back in the late 80’s and early ‘90’s, even the larger conventions had not yet become a tool for Hollywood to promote its upcoming television shows and movies. In those days, comic book conventions were still about--gasp--comic books. There were still side offerings--old action figures, non-sports trading cards, etc--but it was all old, obscure, and relatively cheap.

The bigger conventions often had at least one room for airing films and television shows. This stuff was generally o the level of the famous Star Trek blooper reel and the infamous Legend of the Super Heroes. There were loads of cartoons, especially banned Merry Melodies installments with racially insensitive content and/or World War II propaganda. I have already written about my experiences with the controversial film Freaks at these conventions. One thing conventions were loaded with is movie serials from the ’30’s and ’40’s. I had a healthy dose of Kurk Alyn as Superman and Buster Crabbe as Flash Gordon.

Those were the days to be a fan, folks. In those pre-internet days, you felt like you were experiencing something special--or illicit, as in the case of some of those cartoons--because you could not find that stuff anywhere else. Do not get me wrong, I love being able to click on Youtube and find it all right now. The internet has made collecting much easier, too, even though it is killing off brick and mortar comic book and science fiction shops. But I have a nostalgia for the way those experiences felt back then.

All that to say, I like a good homage to serials of the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. but this is VOY, so how well can an homage be pulled off on a show on which nothing ever works all that well/ The answer is surprisingly good, though you have to look at it as the same dumb fun as the serials it is honoring. I can do that. Heck, it helps not to think too much about VOY period for the sake of your mental and emotional health.

Aliens from another dimension enter our dimension through a rift and discover tom’s Captain Proton serial running. They believe it is real, and fear the evil villain Dr. Chaotica has a Death Ray that is going to destroy their planet, so they launch an attack on his forces. While the attack rages, Voyager is trapped in stasis. Since the extra dimensional aliens think the program is real, but the crew is not, they decide to become characters in the serial to defeat Dr. Chaotica and end the war.

Oddly enough, this is not a tom-centric episode. Janeway takes front stage as queen Arachnia of the Spider People. Her job is to seduce Dr. Chaotica into lowering his force field so captain proton can destroy the Death Ray. What ensues is everyone hamming it up with over the top dialogue, booby traps, and a robot that looks like a hot water heater with limbs. Queen Arachnia is successful, and with the war over, the aliens go back to their dimension and Voyager is freed.

I liked “Bride of Chaotica” overall. The serial scenes were filmed in black and white, which is a nice touch. The production values are clearly far higher than any that could have been done in those days, but still has a cool looking retro style. Kate Mulgrew looks like she is having a great time with her over the top act, including an incredibly phallic scene in which Dr. Chaotica explains the power of his Death Ray while Queen Arachnia rubs the barrel. The creators of those original serials slipped some racy innuendo in at times, but nothing I have seen is quite like that. Maybe I have been watching the wrong stuff.

Are there flaws? Yes, the whole scenario is dub. Janeway goes from reluctant to play the Queen to relishing the role, even cracking bad jokes as her character would. In other words, she becomes far too comfortable, far too fast, in a character she only had a crash course in a few moments prior to entering the holodeck. But it is amusing, so who cares? Frankly, it fits in with the VOY motif of bad actors doing dumb things with as much sincerity as they can muster.

If memory serves, this is the last time the Captain Proton holodeck program appears. These season long holodeck themes usually get a big send off. I think “Bride of Chaotica” edges out the tiki bar’s swan song from the second season. Coming up soon is the Irish town of Fairhaven. Brace yourself for that. It is definitely a what were they smoking when the writers came up with that one deal. Regardless of that, ‘Bride of Chaotica” is good fun for a holodeck malfunction episode. I recommend it, but if you are not a fan of serials, you will probably find it far too flippant to enjoy.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Latent Image"

I have such mixed emotions about “Latent Image.” I want to like it because of the earnest effort at discussing the philosophical themes of individuality and living with a literal life or death decision. But two problems arise. One, these themes have been done far better in past Star Trek and two, there are too many implausible events needed in order to set up the discussion. The only aspect of “Latent Image” that saves it is, as he so often does, Robert Picardo, who plays the conflicted Doctor perfectly.

While taking full body scans of crewmembers, the Doctor discovers a surgical scar on the back of Harry’s neck. It is from within the last two years, but harry claims to not remember having an operation. The Doctor, the only one who could have performed surgery, does not, either. With Seven’s help, he retrieves memories of a shuttle mission eighteen months prior in which he, Harry, and a not long for this life Jatel were attacked. The doctor does not know Jatel. The rest of the crew claims not to, either. The doctor suspects the ship was attacked some time ago, and the attackers erased his memory, along with everyone else’s, to cover it up. For the first two acts, the audience suspects he might be right until he discovers Janeway deleting the memory files associated with his discovery.

The truth is the shuttle was attacked eighteen months ago with the three on board. The Doctor’s ethical program was damaged, while Harry and Jatel were mortally wounded. Their nervous systems are deteriorating so rapidly, the Doctor only has time to save one. He chooses to save Harry, someone he knows well, over Jatel, an ensign he has only met once before the shuttle mission. Once his program is repaired, the doctor cannot live with his decision to save his friend over a stranger. Pondering how and why he made that choice crippled his ability to function, so Janeway ordered his memory of the incident erased. Now she is going to do it again to keep him from becoming paralyzed over his choice again.

This being VOY, Seven is the catalyst for changing Janeway’s mind on the issue. We were doing so well here for a stretch with not making every episode about Seven’s quest to regain her humanity. At least in this case, the motif fits well. Seven is confused why it is moral to erase the doctor’s memories without his consent. Janeway replies that the doctor is no different than a replicator. When broken, they both need to be fixed. No one seeks out the replicator’s consent to do so. Seven wonders, since she is part machine, will Janeway force her will on her, too. The answer is yes, and soon, but Seven response convinces Janeway to restore the Doctor’s memory and let him work through the consequences of his decision to save Harry instead of Jatel. Which he does, and we never hear anything else about this again. Because this is VOY.

Let us get the contrivances which kill the episode out of the way. Who is this alien who attacked the shuttle? We have never seen him before. We do not know his motivation for launching a deadly attack. It is pretty convenient he has a three barrel gun that can hit each target individually. They should have taken four people on the mission so one could have overpowered the alien. How do you erase the entire existence of jatel so the doctor will never find out about her? Did Janeway forbid her name from ever being spoken? Knowing her, maybe. But everything had to be erased--service record, medical files, photos--all of it. How likely is all that just because the Doctor had a meltdown over the consequences of his actions? Not very, and the implausibility nearly kills the episode.

Something else that does not help is how much better explorations of individuality and freedom of self-determination were done on TNG with Data. There is nothing really profound here that changes Janeway’s mind. She just suddenly decides after talking to seven that bad memories are as much of a part of a person as the good times. They have to be dealt with, not ignored. I do not usually defend janeway when she forces her will on someone else, but I actually think her replicator analogy is more sound than deciding a hologram, who happens to be the only Doctor, should be given psychotherapy instead. I will concede one point--the scene in which Janeway and Torrws are approaching the Doctor in sickbay where they are about to perform his lobotomy has a palpable air of sinister dread. That scene nearly convinced me Janeway’s changing her mind was correct. I felt sympathy for the Doctor as a sentient being, not a hologram that can be altered on a whim.

The only thing that saves “Latent Image” is Picardo. His fourth act meltdown over why one makes the choices one makes in situations is incredibly moving. I think if the writers had taken out the cover up aspects of the story, which are too ridiculous for words, and just had the moral dilemma of how to deal with the doctor’s newfound ethical issues, “Latent image” would be a classic. Alas, I can only recommend it for Picardo’s performance.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Counterpoint"

Has everyone been clamoring for a janeway romance episode? Me, neither, but here we go. “Counterpoint” shifts away from the usual Star trek motif of romance equals sex, but still does not go much deeper. Janeway falls for an exciting, dangerous man like a teenage girl might in what amounts to a thin, not very believable relationship. But Trekkies are cheap dates, so that is good enough. Unfortunately, the rest of the story is quite predictable.

Voyager is traveling through Devore territory. The Devore are a xenophobic race who do not like visitors. They especially do not like telepaths. They have devised strict rules and inspections for ships traveling through Devore space to ensure there is no telepath smuggling going on. Of course, Voyager is smuggling telepaths in order to find a rumored wormhole to safety. Otherwise, the telepaths will be sent off to a Devore concentration camp.

A Devore named Kashyk has been in charge of three ship wide inspections. He is a smug jerk who creates a strained, but cooperative relationship with Janeway. I think this dynamic is supposed to qualify as sexual tension, but neither actor can really pull that off plausibly. Perhaps it is this implausible relationship that causes me to never by into the idea the two are falling for each other when Kashyk returns to Voyager alone and requests asylum.

Kashyk returns to Voyager with a sob story about how he had discover a group of half starved telepaths, including a small child, hiding on a freighter. He sent them all to a concentration camp, but the little girl has allegedly weighed on his conscience since. Janeway came along to be his salvation. As a sign of good faith, he reveals he knew about the transporter trick that has been hiding the telepaths, but refused to reveal that to the rest of his inspection team. As a further act of good faith, he offers to help find the wormhole in exchange for safe passage through it.

I never bought into his conversion, probably because no one else really does, either, but also because the romance that blossoms between Kashyk and Janeway feels so superficial. Seriously, he is doing a con job on her and she does not fully trust him. So what is there to build on? The relationship gets even worse when Kashyk offers to go back to some pursuing Devore ships, take command of them, and take charge of the latest inspection so he can still keep the telepaths hidden. It is all a trick, of course. He wanted Janeway to find the wormhole so the telepaths only escape route can be destroyed and the telepaths arrested. But Janeway has tricked him, too. The ’wormhole” they are approaching is a red herring while the telepaths are reaching the real one via shuttlecraft. In the end, Janeway fights back tears over what might have been.

Remember yesterday when I remarked that no one can violate the Prime Directive with impunity except Janeway? Here is further proof. Smuggling telepaths is a blatant violation which Janeway commits without blinking because she thinks she has the moral high ground. Yet tom was demoted and locked away in the previous episode for beliving the same. Captain’s privilege, of course. She cannot have loose cannons serving under her. But the powers that be should have spread these two episodes apart so the contradiction would not come so readily to mind. Preserving the ocean at all costs might just be as moral a cause as rescuing refugees from certain death in many people’s minds.

I am also amused that when spelled Kashyyyk, the bad guy’s name is the home planet of the Wookies. How sad is it that I know that?

“Counterpoint” is a fan favorite, particularly for the janeway shippers who are getting frustrated with Chakotay’s inability to seal the deal romantically. I figure the lesbian janewat/Seven and Janewat/Torres shippers are on my side in agreeing “Counterpoint” is too shallow to be convincing. Even the con job done on Kashyk would wind up on the Mission: Impossible cutting room floor. “Counterpoint” is average. No fatal flaws, but nothing to elevate it, either.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Thirty Days"

The character studies certainly have been kicked up a notch this season. “Thiry days” is a Tom-centric episode. It is the best one yet for the character, as it does not involve him being accused of murder, turning into a salamander, or being obsessed with restoring an old Camero. It also brings back the old Tom--the screw up who cannot please his father no matter what he does, and fills the void by engaging in stupid, idealistic adventures. Tom has been “fixed’ a little too well by his time on Voyager. He is a crack pilot, a field medic, an engineer who can design an ubershuttlecraft from scratch, and an author Why did this guy ever have any troubles with screwing up in the past?

Voyager encounters what appears to be an ocean in space. Upon investigation, they are attacked by the Moneans. It is a misunderstanding that gets cleared up quickly. In fact, the Moneans have a problem they would like the crew to tackle for them. The containment field holding the ocean in place is degrading. They do not have any submarines capable of diving deep enough to investigate the center of the ocean, but the Delta flyer can get there easily. Tom, who always wanted to be a sailor, but was forced into Starfleet by his overbearing father, jumps at the chance.

The expedition discovers, after a brief encounter with a very cool looking giant, CGI eel, the Moneans own technology is causing the degradation. If they do not change their ways, the ocean will disappear in five years. Their chief diplomat promises some committee on science within their government will look into the matter. Tom knows nothing is going to come of that. It will be tied up in bureaucracy until it is too late. He decides to take matters into his own hands after a brief pep talk from Torres.

Tom and a sympathetic Monean named Rigar steal the Delta Flyer and plan to destroy the underwater oxygen generators. By doing so, they will have to be rebuilt, and the likelihood is they will be rebuilt with preserving the ocean in mind. Voyager is forced to stop the act of ecoterrorism. Tom is brought back to the ship, demoted to ensign, and sentenced to thirty days solitary confinement in the brig.

I am as shocked as you are there is no preachy environmental lesson to be found. Doubly so because of the running theme of environmental damage the Malon are causing that will play out for the rest of the season. The fact is, the Moneans are willfully killing themselves because they do not feel like spending the resources to prevent further damage, but Janeway--surprise, surprise--invokes the Prime Directive and says if they want to kill themselves, it is their choice. Just to make things a little grayer, the Moneans are revealed to be nomadic squatters. they found this ocean in space centuries ago and moved in. they do not know who built it or why, but it is assumed it was intended to preserve some planet’s ocean from an ecological disaster. But all that is cast aside for a character study.

A character study with some oddities. For one, tom has never expressed any connection to the nautical life before, nor has he ever been an environmentalist. Sure, he has been looking for anything with which to feel emotionally connected, but his newfound concern for the ocean is out of the blue. For another, Janeway is back to her crazy self. She has violated the prime directive a heck of a lot worse than Tom does here, and while I understand she cannot let the matter go without a response, what a response! She dresses tom down, rips a pip off his collar when demoting him, and sentences him to solitary all after she tells him she would have blown up the Delta flyer to stop him. The episode, told in flashback, reveals Janeway forbade torres from visiting at all, while allowing only Neelix to drop off bread and water and medical visits in an emergency. Compare this to when Tuvok violated the prime directive in “Prime Factors” and received a slap on the wrist. Janeway got up on the wrong side of the bad this morning, no? The biggest flaw is Tom is motivated to action by his poor relationship with his father, yet whatever happened between them is still not revealed. A little clarification might have elevated “Thirty Days” beyond pleasantly intriguing. No such luck.

“Thirty Days” is a good episode, however. One cannot help but notice untapped potential in exploring exactly why tom and his father are estranged. Whatever the case, it is enough to compel tom to do some incredibly dumb things in order to give his life meaning. Some elaboration on just how damaged he is is in order. But I will be a lot more forgiving about the omission than usual because I did not have to sit through a hour’s worth of moralizing over how we are destroying the oceans with our careless ways. That is a relief.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

I have to earn my Parrot Head stripes:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Nothing Human"

It is time to tick some people off. “Nothing Human” is not a very popular episode among fans. I can sympathize for reasons I will elaborate on momentarily. I respectfully have to disagree. Maybe it is because I like my Star Trek to be as little like Star Trek as possible, but I am appreciatively of what this episode is trying to do. It is also Jeri Taylor’s final episode and, credit where credit is due, she finally gets Janeway right without fawning all over her innate awesomeness.

Voyager answers the distress call of an alien so exotic, the universal translator has no way of communicating with it. With no Rosetta Stone for Delta Quadrant languages, it ought not translate any alien the crew has encountered, but let us not quibble over that. Right now. This critter looks like a crawdad just to put the image of an animal--a lesser being, so to speak--in our mind. Torres heads down to sick bay for a contrived reason, stands a little too close to the critter’s bed, and it jumps on her to connect with her internal organs. The critter begins using her as life support. It cannot be removed from torres without killing them both.

The doctor is out of his element, so it is suggested another hologram be created to work with him. This hologram needs to be an expert in exobiology. The best exobiologist in the database happens to be a Cardassian named Krell Mercet. Krell’s presence causes problems, particularly when a bajoran crewmember named tabor identifies krell as the Josef Mengele of Cardassia. Krell is most notorious for torturously experimenting on hundreds of Bajorans in order to devise a cure for a plague that was killing tens of thousands. The moral dilemma arises over whether it is justified to use his medical know how even if it means letting torres die if not. For her part, Torres would rather die than allow krell to save her. Ultimately, Janeway forces the medical procedure to go ahead. The critter and torres are safely separated, and it is sent home safely.

So what are the problems fans have with “Nothing Human” and why am I not concerned about them? I will hit on three big points.

One, “Nothing Human” is a dialogue intensive episode about a very heady subject. There is little action to the episode other than when the critter’s buddies show up. They have the same communications problem, so they decide to attack the ship. They are working under Al capone’s axiom that you can get more with a kind word and a crowbar than you can with a kind word alone. This episode is all about the moral dilemma. But unlike most moral dilemmas presented in Star Trek in general and VOY in particular, the argument is not overwhelmingly one sided.

The crew is faced with the problem of how Krell’s victims would react to his research, research under which they died horrible deaths, being used for a positive goal? Would they be happy their sacrifice meant something, or would they feel exploited? The Doctor and tom feel the former. Torres’ life is at stake right now, so what is the point in wrestling with their consciences? Tabor, Torres, and Chakotay agree with the latter. Use Krell’s research, and you are saying the ends justifies the means. Legitimizing Krell’s work says atrocities can be committed in the name of medical science.

Two, Krell did use sound science. Ethically bankrupt for sure, but real. I think less historically astute Trekkies have a problem here because the mengele allegory begins to fall apart even though they do not seem to know it. Mengele is one of those men you hope was demon possessed because you do not want to think another human being could commit the atrocities he did. His Nazi colleagues burned his research notes because they wrre scientifically unsound. Mengele was a man who enjoyed torturing and mutilating helpless people. Krell is not like that. Yes, he did allow people to die in the name of medical research and I am not excusing that. He ought to be hung as a war criminal. but he is not Mengele.

I point that out, not to excuse his actions, but to note that his pleasant, friendly demeanor is not apologizing for Mengele’s atrocities. It is something that fans have asserted. There ought not be a moral dilemma here at all--you just do not use medical knowledge attained in such an evil manner, and it does not matter if he comes across as a nice guy who justified his actions by saying--brace yourself--the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Kill a few hundred to save thousands? Sounds like a bargain.

Sure, Krell has a sadistic streak. He uses an old fashioned scalpel to cut the critter open. His only concern is saving Torres, so he does not mind if the critter dies in the process. Yet when the Doctor devises a method of sparing them both which will still work, krell not only goes along with it, but propses co-authoring a paper on the procedure. Krell is willing to do the right thing when he can. He just believes the ends justifies the means for what he considers the greater good. While this is still a tough moral issue to work through, it is not justifying the atrocities committed by Mengele by any stretch.

Three, janeway is not justifying Krell’s medical research, either, and by doing so, tacitly claiming Mengele’s research is all right to use if good will come of it. Janeway does ultimately decide to force torres to go through with the procedure because she is the chief engineer on a trip that is going to take another fifty years. The crew has lost enough vital people already. While I am not thrilled janeway has forced another crewmember to undergo a life altering medical procedure, at least she recognizes she may be making a mistake. Normally in these cases, she arrogantly strolls in claiming to have absolute moral clarity and anyone else who does not agree is too na├»ve to pay any attention to, because disagreements with Janeway are a betrayal. Taylor resists the urge to do that again in her swan song script, so Janeway takes ownership of what may be a very bad decision. There should have been more of Janeway like this.

There should also have been more episodes like this. Certainly, there are issues big and small with it. I have already addressed the big ones. For small ones, one has to wonder why it is so easy to create another hologram with specialized medical knowledge when it has been a plot point that creating a new EMH is too difficult. There is also the matter of avoiding all the controversy by not making the hologram Krell. Knowledge is knowledge. It could have been downloaded into a Wayne newton lookalike, which might have been wiser considering a third of the crew were at war with the Cardassians before they were stranded in the Delta Quadrant. Turns out, they are intimately familiar with old Krell there.

But no matter. “Nothing Human” is thought provoking. It feels so out of place on VOY, with its presentation of both arguments and Janeway acting human for once, that I almost wish it had been a DS9 or TNG episode instead so it could have shined brighter under a better creative staff. As it is, I am going to awrd “nothing Human” four stars. It might have made a perfect score but for a few missteps.

Rating: **** (out of 5)