Monday, October 31, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Better Than Life"

One would think reviewing a new show amid 620+ Star Trek reviews I could avoid a holodeck story with it. Guess what? “Better Than Life” is the first of several holodeck-like stories. Fortunately, it is a humorous installment, as will all but one of the other holodeck stories will be. Red Dwarf is already taking full advantage of settings beyond the ship, even if they are virtual as far as the characters are concerned.

The Dwarfers, as I have since learned fans call the crew, receive mail three million years passed the time they should among. Among the letters is bad news for Rimmer. For one, he owes a fortune in back taxes. Not even the extinction of the human race can stop the taxman. The other bad news is that his father has died. Even though everyone he knew has been dead for three million years, including Rimmer himself, he takes the news hard.

It is not because he was close to his father. In fact, he hated him. His father used to terrorize rimmer and his brothers about joining the military because he missed out himself for being an inch too short. Rimmer is depressed because he wanted his father to say he was proud of him. Or, if you are cynical, wanted to rub the old man’s nose in the fact he made it into the military while his father did not. It depends upon the episode when deciding which underlying motivation Rimmer posses.

Among the rest of the mail is a virtual video game which allows players to indulge in their fantasies. The three decide to play. Lister and Cat indulge in the life of the wealthy country club set while Rimmer imagines he has the life of a respected admiral. The trick is rimmer’s self-loathing takes over. His fantasy becomes a nightmare when his father shows up to berate him, the only women he has ever slept with forces him to marry her and father three kids, and the tax man finally catches up with him. Rimmer cannot even imagine good things happening to him. His failure to do so ruins the game for everyone.

I have to give “Better Than life’ some props for at least avoiding the holodeck malfunction plot device Star Trek is going to rely heavily upon. The episode is from 1988, so Star Trek had plwnty of time to take a cue from Red Dwarf. the Dwarfers’ fantasies are amusing. Rimmer first indulgence is to meet Napoleon. Cat’s ideal woman is a mermaid with the fish part on top. Lister seems to like crashing the upper crust while still acting like a blue collar slob, probably to spite the hoi polloi. When rimmer causes the fantasy to go south, they wind up buried up to their necks in sand and attacked by ants. Brutal, but that is how Rimmer’s warped mind works. It is a nice touch for things to go badly, or else you would have to wonder why anyone playing the game would not stay there forever to live however they wanted.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Drive"

For all four of you Tom/Torres shippers, “Drive” is the episode for you. The two have had the closest thing to a romantic relationship VOY can muster. By that I mean they begin their relationship when they believe they are going to die, decide to get married at a time when they believe they are going to die, and, when Torres becomes pregnant, their unborn child takes an messianic attributes. In other words, Star Trek. Is everyone on board?

Hopefully you can tell by my flippant attitude their relationship’s big step towards marriage is not all that deep. It never really has been. As I noted above, they first clung to each other when they were floating in space and running out of oxygen with little hope of rescue. This incident occurs shortly after Tom tried to get into Seven undies, which he attempts only after Kes has departed without ever giving it up to him. There was no indication they had feelings for each other beforehand. The only indication between then and now is the occasional hyper emotion one felt when the other was put in a riskier than usual situation. Truth be told, it is ambiguous whether the two wre even living together in the same quarters. Sometimes it seemed so, other times, it did not. The writers really did not know what to do with the relationship.

They still do not, it would seem. The two are drifting apart at the beginning of “Drive.” it is quite clear that tom’s main goal in life is having fun. Torres is planning a romantic weekend together, but he completely forgets her desire to go off on one when the opportunity to compete in a race presents itself. Torres laments to Neelix all Tom cares about is having a good time with her, which I gather is a family friendly way of saying the sex is good. In a chance girl talk encounter with Seven, Torres takes the former borg’s advice to adopt some of Tom’s interests in order to get along with him. If you are keeping scoere, Torres has taken love advice from Neelix and Seven which amounts to indulge Tom’s selfish, immature behavior.

So she does. She becomes Tom’s co-pilot in the race. He is not thrilled with the idea she is elbowing Harry out of the way, so those of you who are Tom/Harry gay shippers have your moment in the sun, too. As expected, tom acts like a self-absorbed jerk, demanding she stay out of the way. His attitude makes no sense on any level. If he truly loves her, then he ought to be happy they are a team. If he is only obsessed with winning, he should prefer having a chief engineer by his side than…whatever Harry is. Janeway’s destiny’s punching bag is as close as I can determine. Things just do not bode well for the two of them.

The plot is complicated when he of the racers, played by former Pussycat Doll Cyia Batten, turns out to have rigged the Delta Flyer’s borrowed fuel converter to explode as it crosses the finish line in the hopes of rekindling the war which just ended. Thanks to Harry, tom and Torres discover the booby trap in time to get away from the other contestants before it explodes. It is in those last few seconds, when they think they are going to die, they decide to get married. When they survive the blast unharmed, they decide to go through with the wedding anyway. Off screen, of course. Would not want any key personal moments to be filmed as part of the series or anything.

The worst part of “Drive,” aside from the implausible way in which a terrorist arranged for the Delta Flyer to be her WMD og choice, is that she not only plays Harry for a chump, but he goes out of his way to unnecessarily accommodate her once he decides he is infatuated and clings desperately. At this point, it seems like the writers are placing him in the most absurd romantic relationships just to humiliate him when they blow up in his face spectacularly.

I guess one cannot blame him too much. This is Cyia Batten:“Drive” is executed way too frivolously for the emotion it is supposed to contain. Neither tom nor Torres appear to have the slightest interest in a true relationship. He is being a jerk and she degrading herself to hold onto him anyway. Come to think of it, maybe that is more true to life than I am giving credit. A bout a third to half the relationships I have seen have that dynamic. It is probably way I am cynical about the whole concept. I will grind my ax some other time. “Drive” is mostly filler. Why a pivotal change for main characters occurs in such a setting is beyond me.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Kryten"

“Kryten” is the second series premiere of Red Dwarf. the episode introduces two new elements to the series. One is a shuttle which will allow the crew to leave Red Dwarf to visit other locales. This will offer a much needed avenue for new stories. In spite of Red Dwarf’s huge size, it is feeling awfully claustrophobic story wise. The second addition is Kryten, the servile android. While he does technically join the crew this episode, he leaves at the end and does not return until the third series premiere.

Kryten was not intended to be a permanent character, and when he returns, there are a number of changes to him in response to fan criticism, most of which amounts to how much of a rip off he was to C3PO. I can see their point, but think it is a bit unfair. Outside of the British accent, there really is not that much of a similarity. I talk about that more when Kryten joins the cast full time next week.

Red Dwarf receives a distress call from Kryten. He claims to be the servile android of three American women who have crashed on an asteroid in their ship, the Nova 5. The Red Dwarf crew, who have not seen any women in three million years, get all cleaned up to heroically rescue the women. When they get to Nova 5, they discover the women have been dead for centuries. Kryten just believed they were not all that demanding.

The crew decides to take kryten back to Red Dwarf. he protests, because he is programmed to serve the women. He fumbles around Red Dwarf without anything to do, so Rimmer exploits him by giving him an impossibly long list of tasks to complete. Lister does not like rimmer’s abuse of Kryten’s programming, so he tries to convince Kryten to rebel. Kryten flirts with the idea of settling down on a planet somehow to start a garden of his own, but his programming will not allow him to disobey Rimmer.

Kryten has finally had it with Rimmer after being pushed a little too far with his attitude that some are meant to give orders and others are meant to take them as the natural order of things. Channeling the main characters of The Wild Ones, Rebel Without a cause, and Easy Rider, Kryten tells Rimmer off, dons a leather outfit, and takes Lister’s bike off into the proverbial sunset.

Fans generally have mixed feelings about "Kryten,” but I fall on the mostly positive side. Kryten will become my favorite character on the show, but I prefer him after the tweaks are made for him to become a main character. The scenes on board the Nova 5 are the highlight of the episode.rimmer had degraded himself grovelling for Lister to plasy up his positive points to the women when they meet them. Lister does so even though the women are centuries old skeletons, thereby proving rimmer cannot win at anything. Rimmer refers to Kryten as Norman Bates when he does not realize the women have been dead for centuries. I was amused that Rimmer’s quip, “They [the women] have less meat on them than a Chicken McNugget” is edited on the DVD. The “Mc” part of McNugget is bleeped out. Seriously, McDonalds? Are you really a stickler over a joke like that?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Imperfection"

The season premiere was Seven-centric, so by the second episode, it is obviously time to have another episode focused on her. No surprise the plot involves a medical emergency, so the doctor can be featured prominently as well. Yes, folks. For the seventh season, Voy has been renamed Star Trek: Seven and the Doctor.

Credit where credit is due, “Imperfection” is not another episode exploiting the popularity of the two characters at the expense of the rest of the cast. It has a real theme, that of someone facing a terminal illness with all the emotional impact such a tragedy has on a family, that is particularly well done. There is the usual trapping of a pointless action sequence, but otherwise, ’Imperfection” is a fine installment for a series running on fumes.

Seven’s cordical node begins malfunctioning. It is the equivalent of a brain tumor as far as Borg are concerned. Janeway leads an away mission to a Borg cube debris field, a debris field presumably caused by the strangely unmentioned civil war, to retrieve another cordical node from a cadaver. There is no respect for the dead whatsoever in the delta Quadrant, it would seem. The mission leads to a brief battle with pirates solely because there would be a lack of explosions otherwise. Holodeck simulation show the transplant will not work. Seven must be resigned to the fact she will die.

Observing how she and those around her adjust is fascinating and often moving. She talks with torres, someone with whom she has had friction, about the possibility of an afterlife. She notes that she has been a personal project for janeway, which dances around the pseudo-mother/daughter relationship the two enjoy. The most moving is ichab’s reaction. He is the only one of the borg children left. Voyager is now his permanent home. He is even planning to take correspondence courses from Starfleet Academy in order to become a more vital part of the crew. But until he can fit in more legitimately, seven is all he has. He cannot allow her to die.

Ichab devises a plan for the doctor to use his cordical node as a replacement for seven’s. this would correct the problem of a cadaver’s cordical node being insufficient. Ichab surmises that he was never fully Borg, so he can likely get along without it. Seven will not hear of it. She will not risk his life to save hers. Ichab wants Janeway to order her to go through with the surgery, but Janeway has changed her mind about forcing crewmembers to undergo medical procedures against their will. For the first time, I might add. Tuvok, Neelix, and Torres stifle a snicker at janeway’s righteous indignation over the idea she should force her will on anyone. The free borg drones currently embroiled in a civil war because of her could not be reached for comment.

Ichab removes his cordical node anyway to prove he can survive without it. Proving that he is Starfleet material, he also gives a convincing speech that convinces seven to accept the cordical node and save her life. Both wind up perfectly fine with a stronger emotional bond. Seven learns to rely on others. Ichab, as noted, now knows how to give a self-righteous speech to convince others the error of their ways. Picard would be proud if he only knew--and did not hate children so much.

With the exception of the bief battle with pirates, ‘Imperfection” is a well crafted, entertaining episode. It is personal drama that is not terribly preachy. It has themes that can easily be related to circumstances that might face real people without adding in too many science fiction concepts which might interfere with the sympathy/empathy of the audience, whichever the case may be. It many ways, I doubted VOY could ever pull off such a thing.

I do not usually nitpick over minor errors, particularly when they do not have an impact on the story, but I have to not ‘imperfection’ is clearly aired out of sequence. Tom and Torres are wearing wedding rings during their respective close up scenes with Seven. They have not yet gotten married. Oops.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Me²"

“Me²” is the first series finale. It begins right where we left off in the last episode. There are now two Rimmers, much to Lister’s chagrin, but Rimmer’s delight. The goings on are fairly predictable. While Rimmer starts out thrilled that he will now be in the company of himself-- because he has always blamed everyone else for his failures in life--he quickly learns how hard it is to live with himself until the point arrives that one of them has to go.

I found much of the sniping between the two rimmers to be too loud and cruel to be funny. There was a fun bit in the Red Dwarf theater in which they childish one up one another in preventing the other from watching the movie, but otherwise, they screech at each other over how their parents hated them and such. The shouting matches serve as decent insight into Rimmer’s emotional issues and self-loathing because of his failures, but is a meltdown really the best way to go about it? I found very little of it funny.

Fortunately, the episode has redeeming elements. Lister discovers a video of Rimmer’s death. After skipping past a long introduction filled with poetry readings, a eulogy Rimmer wrote for himself, and a personal attack on Lister, we get to see Rimmer’s final moments after the radiation leak. His final words are ‘gazpacho soup.” Lister has no idea why such a thing would be the last thought on Rimmer‘s mind, and even sneaking into Rimmer’s room to read his diary is no help. He gets the opportunity too find out when he goes to shut one of the Rimmers off. The condemned approaches Lister in full dress uniform. At his request, Rimmer explains to Lister he was once invited to eat at the captain’s table. Gazpacho soup was served. Lister had no idea it was supposed to be served cold, so he demanded it be heated up. The other officers laughed at his ignorance. Rimmer believes the incident stymied his career. Lister then reveals he already cut off the other Rimmer, so he just humiliated himself for nothing. All that is oddly humorous.

The story surrounding the soup incident is funny, but there are not a lot of laughs otherwise. Holly plays a practical joke on lister about him now being the richest human alive, but being hunted by the second richest corporation. It screams the episode was running short, so a long joke had to be thrown in. cat is almost irrelevant. There is a bit in which he is roller skating along while looking for a girl cat and one in which he surprising pops out of a closet he has been hiding in during the previous scene, but he is not given a lot to do.

This was an unpleasant episode with which to end the first series. The conflict between the two rimmers, while meant to be funny, is grating. The laughs that are there are few and far between. I would have been nice to get Cat more involved, as well. All in all, it is not a very good episode. The limited story potential of being stuck on a ship with only three characters is already beginning to show. Fortunately, the series gets a much needed expansion its sophomore year.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Unimatrix Zero, Part II"

Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached the final season of VOY. The end is in sight. I can almost feel the redemptive delousing that awaits me shortly before munching on Thanksgiving turkey. Unfortunately, I have 26 other turnkeys to work my way through first. Case in point, “Unimatrix Zero, Part II.” It is a predictable paint by numbers conclusion to everything that was set up in the previous episode, right down to Janeway destroying what she was requested to save and sparking off a war in the process. It is the only way she knows how to do things.

I have the nagging suspicion the sixth season finale was written without a conclusion in mind. For whatever reason--I think Brannon Braga’s incompetence, but whatever--that is a Star Trek tradition. There are three points which make me think this. One, the virus that was the focal point of the first episode’s plot is minor in the second. Two, Tuvok, who insisted on coming on the away mission as a safeguard, is the only one who becomes fully assimilated. He did not see his increased mental abilities as a liability when resisting a hive mind. He should have thought of that before, but he could not because it was likely a flash that occurred to Braga while lounging by the pool over the summer break. Finally, seven does a complete turn around with her feelings about Axum for no good reason than to create drama when it turns out he is physically too far away in the beta quadrant to carry on a relationship with her.

There really is not much to the episode beyond what I have already described. The away team releases the virus, which separates the drones with the special gene from the Borg Collective. Took cannot resist the hive mind, so he inadvertently betrays Janeway and Torres. While Seven travels back and forth from the real world and unimatrix Zero, she juggles the resistance effort with her rekindled romance with Axum. Meanwhile, the borg Queen has devised another virus which can be released in unimatrix Zero to kill everyone in it. How one can kill people in a virtual reality world is beyond me, but there you go. Janeway gets the chance to covertly order chakotay to destroy Unimatrix Zero so all the free drones can still exist. With Unimatrix Zero destroyed, the free drones begin a civil war within the Borg Collective. Thanks to Koruh, the formerly assimilated Klingon, the away team is rescued and--surprise, surprise--none the worse for wear.

If you are keeping track, Janeway was supposed to help shield unimatrix Zero from the Borg Queen. Instead, her decisions lead to its destruction and a civil war which already tops 100,000 in casualties before the episode ends with no end in sight. This means that Janeway, by her own hand, has caused civil wars with devastating results within the two most powerful enemies of the federation--the Q continuum and the Borg Collective. Quite a resume she is building up there.

There are two interesting bits in “Unimatrix Zero, Part II” that make it notable. One is the humorous homage to Return of the JedI in which, like the Ewoks, the denizons of Unimatrix Zero build booby traps like falling logs and nets to defeat the technologically superior Borg. Leave it to VOY to decide emulating Ewoks is a good idea. The second is far more intriguing because of how chilling it is. The Borg Queen visits Unimatrix Zero--at janeway’s request, no less--and encounters a young boy. She spins the concept of assimilation to make it sound like being part of one big, happy family wherein everyone can share each others thoughts. She actually makes the horrifying loss of individual freedom sound enticing. The child falls for it, too, which makes it even scarier. There is something about preying on innocence that makes evil sound even worse.

Neither of those two points raise the episode to anything beyond an enjoyable hour. I must confess that I would rank the episode lower if I were to look at the big picture. The civil war angle is completely dropped afterwards. What could have made for a slam bang final season story arc is herafter completely ignored even when the borg return later on. It would not be fair to count thast against the season premiere itself, but I cannot help but be disappointed by the missed opportunity. Get used to it, though. The whole season is a lot of one off episodes that mean nothing in the gran scheme of things until the series finally sputters out in the finale.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 28, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Confidence and Paranoia"

It might be a little difficult to tell from this fuzzy screencap, but that is oung craig Ferguson acting with Craig Charles’ Lister. Ferguson may be a great late night talk show host, but he does fake american accents very poorly. Just sayin’.

Lister becomes ill from a lingering ailment. The illness causes the visions of his fever induced hallucinations become real. He dreams of fish falling from the ceiling, much to cat’s joy, and the medieval mayor of Warsaw strolling down the hall, then spontaneously combusting. When he finally awakens, rimmer informs him two of his manifested hallucinations remain. They are the personification of his Confidence and Paranoia.

Rimmer says he has to get rid of the two if he wants to get well, but Lister starts bonding too well with confidence to give him up. Rimmer appears to warm up to Paranoia because he is entertained by stories of how Lister’s paranoia has caused him embarrassing or painful moments in his life. Nevertheless, Rimmer is determined to kill off Paranoia himself if it comes to that. Ironic, sense Chris Barrie beat out lee Cornes, the weaselly actor playing paranoia, for the role of Rimmer.

Confidence beats him to the punch by killing Paranoia off screen himself. Confidence then pushes lLster to search for the device that would revive Kochansky while rimmer can still exist. Rimmer has hidden it to prevent any holograms higher ranking than him to exist. The device is on the outside of the ship, so Lister and Confidence have to do a spacewalk/chorus line dance on the hull.

Once they are out there, Confidence admits he killed Paranoia to get him out of the way. Lister becomes nervous, claiming he needs to go back inside because he is feeling claustrophobic. Confidence insists he should just take his helmet off. Confidence does it first just to prove it is safe to do and promptly explodes in the vacuum of space. A victim of overconfidence, naturally.

Lister retrieves the device and brings it inside. Rimmer, having failed to talk him out of bringing back Kochansky, wishes him the best of luck. Unfortunately for Lister, Rimmer has been one step ahead of him. Instead of Kochansky, the new hologram is another copy of Rimmer. Oh, mercy. Now there is two of them.

There is a certain mean-spirited humor that runs through “Confidence and Paranoia” that has not been in previous episodes. Holly bugs Lister while he is watching a movie to make some memory adjystments for him, then berates him afterwards because he cannot remember asking lister to erase some of his memory. Rimmer is on Lister’s case as usual, but his final touch of not only robbing Lister of the girl he is in love with, but tricking him into creating another Rimmer is a low moment even for him. Cat, too, cannot be convinced to help Llister when is has passed out in the corridor because his lunch is more important than his friend--and god, if continuity means anything. This stuff is particularly cruel.

Cruel, but funny. Do not get me wrong, I can handle brutal humor at someone else’s expense. It is just this is the first time we have really seen the characters show the truly nasty sides of the natures. Lisyers is a good guy whom we sympathize because his only companions either use him as a verbal punching bag or ignore him altogether to focus on their own frivolous pursuits. Lister will soon turn the tables in a brutally selfish and dishonest way, but for now…ouch. It sucks to be the last human alive and surrounded by losers like Rimmer and Cat.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Unimatrix Zero, Part I"

“Unimatrix Zero, Part I’ serves as the sixth season finally, which means it is time to run into the Borg yet again. The episode ends in a now ubiquitous cliffhanger, so the episode is largely set up for the seventh and final season premiere. Oh, yeah, baby. Only one more season to go, then I will never have to sit through another episode of this show again. I will have to find out if robert beltran dig a jig when the series ended so I can learn the stepps to it.

If you have not guessed by the title, “Unimatrix Zero” borrows heavily from the science fiction blockvuster The Matrix. truth be told, it is such a thinly veiled attempt to cash in on the movie’s success it is downright pitiful. The only thing missing are trench coats and sunglasses. Janeway even does a little kung fu action against a borg drone at one point. With a Klingon bat’leth, no less.

Seven is contacted during her regeneration by a group of drones who exist in a virtual reality safe haven in which than can exist as individuals during their regeneration cycles. She stayed here during her regeneration cycles for eighteen years herself, but lived as Annika. She has no memories of any of it. None of the denizens do once their regeneration cycles are complete. Only one in a million drones have some special gene that allows them to come to Unimatrix Zero. Unfirtynately, the borg Queen is onto them. She has been closing in on where unimatrix Zero is and how to destroy it. Axum, a former lover of Annika, wants seven’s help to keep Unimatrix zero a safe haven.

Seven consults with janeway, who is eager to help, but needs to see this place for herself. Fortunately for everyone, Tuvok knows a never before mentioned and hereafter completely ignored vulcan techique to brisge minds so that when Seven visits unimatriz Zero, Janeway can as well. The best bit about it is when the doctor raises and obbjection regarding the safety of the procedure. Took admits he has never done it before, but once saw a vulcan master perform it with ease, so how hard can it be? There is a reason performers of dangerous stunts warn you not to try them at home. There is an illusion in watching others perform complicated tasks effortlessly that makes them look easy when they are not. Vulcans apparently ignore these warnings, particularly when they involve messing with people’s brains. Tuvok has reduced a delicate procdure he once saw perform to the famous last words of a redneck--“Shoot, I can do that. Hold my beer while I try it.”

Janeway enters Unimatrix One and consults with Axum. Keeping in mind all he wants her to do is devise a way to shield the place from the Borg Queen’s detection. Janeway’s advise is to find a way to retain the memories of everyone living in Unimatrix Zero when they return to the Borg Collective. Then, she suggests, they act as resistence fighter. Axum only wants a peaceful place for his people to enjoy their lost individuality. Janeway could not care less. She wants to turn them into an army in order to defeat the Borg.

Their conversation is interrupted by an incursion of Brog drones once the Borg queen has discovered several of the borg with the special gene. I am a jaded soul when it comes to how watered down the borg have become on VOY, but the scenes of screaming people running through the forest in terror as emotionless drones relentlessly chase after them is chilling. One of the people being hunted down is a Klingon. When he is “killed,” Janeway picks up his bat’leth and goes to town on the drones. We switch to what is probably my favorite scene in all of VOY. The borg queen, watching the action on a view screen in her lair hisses through gritted teeth, ‘…Janeway…” I like it because it is the same reaction Braxton has to her, as well. There is a pattern to how janeway gets on people’s nerves for neddling in things with which she should not be involved.

I say meddling in things she should not be involved in deliberately. She not only freely admits she is violating the prime directive by attempting to spark off a civil war within the Borg Collective, she informs axum the first time she meets him that the doctor and torres are already working on a way they can keep their memories of Unimatrix Zero once their regeneration cycles are complete. She never had any intention of just shielding the place as Axum requested. She was always going to force her plan for a civil war on them. The realization scares the heck out of Axum. So much so that when seven returns to check on how they are handling the periodic incursions, he tells her she owes them nothing and should go away--and he is the one who brought her there to ask for help! I guess no one filled him in on how Janeway does things.

I have to be far here. Axum admitted earlier that he and annika had a six year relationship that ended when she was separated from the Borg Collective. She does not remember any of it, and therefore has no feelings for him even though he still loves her. When she rejects him--in fact, rejects all aspects of her reemerging Annika personality--he is hurt and wants to keep her at arms length. We are supposed to realize his statement that the defense of Unimatrix Zero is not her battle is a sign of his broken heart, but come on. Janeway’s crazy plan that is being forced on him has got to be far scarier.

Did I say janeway had a crazy plan/ how does allowing herself, Tuvok, and Torres to be assimilated in order to spread the virus that will allow all drones with the special gene to retain their memories outside Unimatrix Zero? That is bat crap insane, not to mention highly implausible, but that is what the three do. Such is the cliffhanger.

The plor here is gruel thin. It is all about setting up the cliffhanger while dazzling the audience with some pointless special effects. How many times do we have to see the borg queen be pieced together through the magic of CGI? We catch a glimpse at (presumably) another borg city in space, which is impressive, and a few Borg severed heads for the shock value of it. Seeing janeway, took, and torres as assimilated drones is a bit jarring, I will confess, but it all feels gratuitous.

I do enjoy Seven’s fliration with her humanity while in Unimatrix Zero. Her Borg implants disappear there eventually while she lets her hair down. She even speaks with a happier, more chipper voice. All this until she realizes she was in a relationship with Axum. Fear takes over, so she bounces back to rigid Seven as a defense mechanism. When she rejects Axum, she goes about it in the coldest, cruelest manner imaginable. It is a turn off, yet I cannot help but feel sorrow for Seven. She is such an emotionally damaged person,. She cannot even entertain the idea of rekindling a close relationship she once had as a human.

But I do not want to be cruel myself here. “Unimatrix Zero, Part I’ may be thin on plot, but it is not terrible. I just expect more from a season finale than plodding towards a cliffhanger that is such a surprise twist, it actually makes the characters involved appear insane. There are unpredictable plot twists, which are good, and implausible plot twists, which are not. Leave it to VOY to choose the latter to end the season on.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Waiting for God"

Cat, being the shallow character that he is, is difficult to create an episode around. There is an entire sequence in this episode in which he proudly shows off a yo yo he has found to Rimmer. He has absolutely no idea what it is or how to use it, but it is the greatest shiny thing he has discovered in quite some time. One suspects, given the satire of religion that is the main focus of “Waiting for God,” Cat’s stupidity may even be played up here.

Lister discovers Cat’s holy book. Cats read by smell--as one who has rarely been without a cat in his life, I can attest to how apt that idea is--so he cannot read it. He has Holly translate and discovers the cat religion is built around him. Their idea of an afterlife is to move to Fiji and open a hotdog and donut stand. An old laundry ist of Lister’s is a holy text, but confusion over what it meant caused divisions among the faithful. Wars broke out. The one over whether the paper hats at the hot dog and donut shop should be blue or red is still ongoing. Lister is distraught to know he is a god in the first place, much less that people have died because of misinterpretation of things he has written.

It is all fairly standard criticism of religion in general and Christianity specifically from a skeptical point of view. Up until Lister learns how the cat religion turned out, he is excited about being god. He thinks the universe is a cosmic accident without a grand plan. Rimmer does not believe in god, either, but he does think there is a higher purpose out there. He just happens to think it involves six breasted alien women with green hair. That, I believe, is the Art Bell school of skepticism. With a helping of Larry Flynt thrown in, too.

Rimmer is prompted to explore greater meaning through alien contact when Red Dwarf encounters a pod in space. He thinks it is alien in origin, and hopes the aliens can either give him a new body or at least a six breasted woman. In truth, it is a garbage pod from Red Dwarf. Holly and Lister knew that all along, but they let rimmer make a fool out of himself over it just for fun.

“Waiting for God” does not add anything new to the satirical critique of religion. I have heard these jokes so often in the past, I am not even offended. Nor do I care to point out that people are to blame for much of the problems religion has caused rather than theology itself., as least as far as Christianity is concerned. The mockery of Rimmer is amusing, however. Chris Barrie plays him as such an arrogant jerk completely unworthy of his high opinion of himself that the jabs at him never get old.

But you know what does get old/ Talky Toaster. He was introduced in the second episode, but this is the first time he has more than one scene interacting with different characters. I understand he is a fan favorite, but his whole shtick about forcing toast on people because, as an intelligent toaster, he knows that is his only purpose in life is more of a one time joke. Stretching it out over episodes promises diminishing returns.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Haunting of Deck Twelve"

It is amusing how close to Halloween “The Haunting of Deck Twelve” review comes in. I had no thought when I started back in june the episode would wind up being reviewed at the end of October. In spite of its title, there is only one element that is anything resembling a ghost story, and that is Neelix recounts how the crew got to the current point to the Borg children in a ’campfire” story during a power outage. Otherwise, the episode is rather bland and cliché.

The ship is forced to cut off power to all but life support. With the Borg children unable to regenerate in their alcoves, it is up to Neelix to entertain them until power returns. For whatever reason, he is not supposed to tell them the truth--the crew is returning an alien life form to a gaseous nwbula--so he decides to tell them a story about how Voyager accidentally brought an alien onboard while mining for deuterium in a gaseous nebula. Yes, I am not entirely clear on the difference, either.

How many times have we seen this sort of thing before/ Voyager is innocently gathering some supplies in an unusual environment. Unbeknownst to them, the environment is either the home of aliens or an alien itself. They have inadvertently injured an alien, captured one, or otherwise destroyed the environment, so the aliens threaten to destroy the ship before a way to communicate and straighten the situation out is found. I count six episodes with the exact plot and two more with a variation for a grand total of eight, not counting “The Haunting of Deck Twelve.’ it is not the most original of concepts for a VOY episode.

You can pretty well predict what happens. The alien begins transforming the ship’s environment to suit itself. The problems begin with minor malfunctions, but eventually escalate into the removal of life support and electric shocks to defend itself. The key to the resolution is the alien creating a bond with--holy crap--Janeway, because she engages in the old tradition of a captain talking to her ship in order to motivate it to function properly. Eventually, the entire crew is forced to evacuate save for Janeway. She discovers the nebula has been destroy, but vows to find another for the alien. She keeps her promise. The power outage the ship is currently enduring is the effort to send the alien into a new nebula.

“The Haunting of Deck Twelve” is a budget saving bottle show. Like many of the penultimate episodes of a season, it is filler. Filler episodes can be interesting if and when they offer small character insights. This is not one of those times. There is certainly nothing new or insightful to be found. But you know, I really cannot complain much about it, either. It is certainly nothing special, but aside from unoriginality, there are no big flaws in it. The crew is presented with a problem, they slowly pirce the puzzle together to figure it out, and come up with a solution. At least some effort is made to add the ghost story element so at least the way the story is told is different even if the story itself is the same old, same old. Call this one even more frivolously entertaining than usual.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Balance of Power"

”Balance of Power,” unlike yesterday’s installment balancing the comedy and science fiction elements, is a pure sitcom concept. Lister and rimmer are already at each other’s throats because of a personality clash. The episode highlights Chris barrie’s talent for over the top comedy while Lister is presented as far less of a shallow character than previously. There are some funny bits, but this is a n average episode overall.

Rimmer’s insistence Red dwarf be run in tip top shape is getting on Lister’s nerves. He wants to spend an evening with Kristine Kochansky, one of his old crewmates who he had a crush on. Lister refuses to switch himself off so Kochansky can be activated because he does not believe Lister will turn him back on after the date. Lister decides to take the chef’s exam so he can outrank rimmer and order him to switch places with Kochansky. Rimmer does all sorts of Lucy Ricardo antics to convince lister not to take the exam, including impersonating Kochansky to reject lister as a suitable date. Nothing works. Lister takes the exam and acts as though he passes it, although it is revealed later he does not.

“Balance of Power” is very much a showcase for Barrie to act silly in a Jim Carrey or Peter Sellers manner. Barrie began his career as an impressionist who did a lot of physical comedy, and that is what he does best here. Rimmer is much more entertaining when struggling with the holographic arm holly gives him in revenge for insults in a scene reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove, hence the comparison to Sellers earlier, than he is in the smarmy way he tries to convince Lister what great buddies they have allegedly been. Rimmer winds up peeking at Kochansky’s cleavage before switching bodies, and playing with them as he leaves the testing room for Lister to take the exam.

Lister is not as funny a character this time around. Sitting alone in the dining hall on a Saturday night, he flashes back to good times with his long dead friends. There is a palpable sense of loneliness there. Lister may very well be the last human alive. He has not exactly made much of himself. One wonders whether his motivation to become Rimmer’s superior is not just for female captainship, but to raise his lot in life the only way he can at this point. It has to be a real kick in the ego to know he failed at it.

Kochansky is played by Clara Grogan. She will be played in series seven, eighth, and Back to Earth by Elizabeth Morehead, whom I find far more attractive than gorgan. Personally, it is difficult to see what Lister finds in her at the moment. Maybe it is indicative of his low goals in life. Whatever the case, having the hots for Morehead’s version makes more sense. Neither play kochansky as a particularly high class character, however. They still look down on poor Lister regardless.

“Balance of Power” is decent, but not great. I am not a big fan of sitcoms, particularly when the comedy relies on a lot of slapstick. Your mileage may very, so this shtick may very well be right up your alley. I laughed a few times, but I am more appreciative of Red Dwarf’s satirical efforts.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Lifeline"

The final two seasons of VOY could fairly be titled Star Trek: Seven and the Doctor for how often episodes center on them. Generally speaking, Doctor-centric episodes are a notch above, since Seven is often tacked onto someone else’s story unnecessarily while the doctor is a well-rounded character who carry an episode himself. A primary case in point is “Lifeline,” wherein the Doctor’s “family” appears.

Thanks to Barclay, who makes a return appearance, Starfleet and Voyager can now exchange data in a large stream once a month. One of the messages received by Voyager is Barclay informing the Doctor his creator. Dr. Zimmerman, is terminally ill. Perhaps the Doctor’s experiences in the Delta Quadrant have given him some insight. The Doctor believes seven’s Borg nanotech can cure him--see how Seven gets marginally tacked onto any story/--so he talks Janeway into transmitting his program to the Alpha Quadrant so he can treat Zimmerman personally, believing he is the only one who can effectively perform the procedure.

Zimmerman is not thrilled to see him. The EMH Mark One, the only one which have Zimmerman’s personal appearance, are obsolete has medical personnel and have been reprogrammed to clean garbage scowls. Zimmerman has taken an emotional hit to know his greatest accomplishment has gone from providing emergency medical care across space to scraping grime of old barges, all with his face. The Doctor is a reminder of his disgrace. He does not want to be treated by a reminder of his shame.

“Lifeline” is all about the personality clash between the Doctor and Zimmerman. They act exactly alike, so they bear witness to personality flaws and are resentful. No one wants to see their flaws firsthand. Their interactions are humorous and very well done considering Picardo is playing both characters. They engage in wild hand motions, hand off objects to each other, and perform as though they are two different actors there. It is easy to take for granted, but one actor portaying two characters interacting simultaneously through the magic of special effects is not easy to do, particularly when the script calls for high emotion from both. I give high marks for icardo, as well as Dwight Shultz and Marina Sirtis, whose Troi character is added to the mix in the third act, for handling the scenario as well as they do. Let us face it, neither are master thespians under normal circumstances.

The subtle connections between characters is a nice touch. Zimmerman has surrounded himself with holograms, including a pretty young blonde named haley, while eschewing relationship with real people outside of Barclay. Barclay himself has struggled with relationships with real people, often retreating into the holodeck for safety. The two are kindred spirits who empathize with the other’s emotional issues, even if Zimmerman refuses to admit it and Barclay is likely unaware that is the key to their relationship. The Zimmerman/Barclay interactions are as well done as the father/son relationship between Zimmerman and the Doctor as it warms during the episode.

The cure works for Zimmerman in an almost incidental manner. The fact he could be cured is never a matter of drama. It is all about the relationships. Once in a rare while, VOY has forgone slam bang action for a small, personal story and produced a winner. It is a shame the series could not have done it more often. It might be looked upon more favorably these days.

I have to note with bemusement a bit thrown in regarding the now forgotten all but forgotten Maquis element. One of the messages received from Starfleet is one to Janeway from an admiral concerned about the “Maquis situation.” Starfleet assumes there is still an enormous amount of tension between the crewmembers because of divided loyalty. Janeway and Chakotay literally snicker over it, then run off to have lunch together. The sequence is such a goofy way of admitting the conflict that was supposed to run through the entire series has not really been factor since the first season. Voyager might as well be a lost vessel manned by nothing but Starfleet personnel.

Another note--Zimmerman says he has not left Jupiter Station in four years. That means his last trip away was likely the DS9 visit in which he interviewed Bashir for the EMH Mark Two. Leeta broke his heart then by choosing Rom over him. That is enough to smash any man’s ego worse than having his likeness serve as loewly janitors. Or having your masterpiece creation upgraded to look like Andy Dick. That has to hurt, too.

“lifeline” is one of the best episodes of the sixth season. It is probably on a lot of fan’s top ten, maybe even top five lists of the best episodes of the series. I will not argue with anyone who thinks so, but I still do not believe it merits four stars. It drags in places. For instance, Troi is added to the episode solely because there is nothing to bridge the third and fourth acts. She is completely irrelevant afterwards.. Does it not seem unhealthy for Barclay to cling to her as a crutch for every problem he has? Regardless, Picardo saves the episode by superbly acting against…himself. I almost regret we never got the chance to get him and Brent Spiner in an episode so we could have the doctor, Zimmerman, Data, lore, and Dr. Soong all in one. No Arik, though. He and his band of augmented. Van Halen groupies are best forgotten.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Red Dwarf--"Future Echoes"

Red Dwarf generally does some variation on time travel every series. “future Echoes” is it first effort with the concept. The episode establishes exactly how the mix odf science fiction and sitcom elements will work throughout the series as well as settles in on the relationship between Lister and Rimmer. They do not like each other for their own reasons, but the need for companionship forces them to tolerate one another. Tolerate while lobbing jabs at one another, but tolerate nevertheless.

Lister decides he wants to go back into stasis for the return trip to Earth and take Cat with him so they can both settle on Fiji. Rimmer argues first that he ought to give up on the idea of returning to earth. He will not fit in any longer, nor will he have the job skills to take care of himself. He then moves on to talking him out of placing Cat in stasis with him. It is all because rimmer does not want to be alone for three million years even though he is irritated by the quirks of both Lister and Cat. Lister is insistent on following his plan for the two to go back into stasis.

Meanwhile, Red Dwarf has been accelerating all these years, so it suddenly breaks the light barrier. When that happens, the crew begin seeing images from the future, which are the future echoes of the title. Lister sees himself shaving in the mirror when he is not. Cat runs by him and Rimmer complaining about a broken tooth, and Lister witnesses Rimmer carrying on a conversation with thin air. It goes badly when Rimmer sees Lister die in an explosion in a future echo.

The two argue over the inevitability of fate while Rimmer takes sadistic pleasure in knowing Lister is going to die soon. Lister resigns himself to his death when his attempt to prevent Cat from breaking his tooth causes the break instead. Moments later, the scenario which sets up the fatal explosion occurs. Lister goes through with it, fully expecting to die, but everything turns out all right.

Upon returning to their quarters, Lister and Rimmer encounter another future echo. This time it is a aged , one-armed Lister that Rimmer did not witness his death, but that of Bexley, one of Lister’s eventual sons. He and Rimmer race to the infirmary to witness a similarly aged Lister emerge with twin babies. Neither of them knows how that will happen with no women on board, but lister decides to remain out of stasis so whatever happens can.

“Future Echoes” has a lot more laughs than does the premiere. I enjoyed some of the future tense/present tense wordplay when lister and rimmer discuss what will verses what is happening. There are also some clever bits like rimmer talking to himself in a scene that does not make any sense until Lister walks in and the conversation repeats. Then we learn Rimmer was talking to a future version of Lister. i even went for the goofy bit wherein holly gave Rimmer a beehive hairdo like Marge Simpson. the computer is as much a cheeky character as the rest.

It is true that Red Dwarf is not big on continuity, but it is worth noting that Lister does eventually lose an arm to be replaced by a mechanical one. We will see that happen far down the road. I do not think it was planned that far in advance. It feels more like thrown in there to match up with ‘Future Echoes,” but it is there regardless.

I like “Future echoes.” It does the job of keeping lister out of stasis, which would be a logical problem otherwise, by tying in a science fiction concept. As I said above, there are more laughs than in the premiere as the antagonistic relationship is in full bloom now that we have gotten all the introductions out of the way.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Fury"

“Fury” is the infamous return of Jennifer Lein as Kes. I, along with just about every fan and reportedly Lein herself, did not want to see her leave in the third season. Kes was a character with a lot of potential. While it is impossible to determine exactly how much VOY suffered by her absence, fans always felt she enriched the show. There was even an unusual for Star Trek vocalization of irritation Lein had been fired for no good reason than to limit the number of main characters to Seven. It seemed only natural to bring lein back eventually to give her character some closure. I cannot even call ’fury’ a good faith effort to do so. Neither does anyone else, fan or cast member alike. We are all unified in our belief “Fury” is a disgrace.

The problem can be broken down into three elements. One, it is an action oriented episode devoid of any real emotion. Two, once Kes’ motives for her destruction actions are revealed, all I can say is, “That’s it? You are just having a separation anxiety tantrum?” Finally, the story creates a blatant time travel paradox I cannot help trying to work through when I ought to be mining for whatever meager nuggets of value “Fury” has buried within it. I am confident that was not the intended result.

The episode begins during the sixth season time period when an aged kes approaches Voyager and requests to come aboard. Once there, she goes on a special effects laden rampage towards engineering. She kills Torres once she gets there, then uses power from the warp core to travel back in time to a point at which Voyager has been in the Delta Quadrant only for a few weeks. It is all very quick and dazzling. As a comic book fan, I remember joking to my roommate at the time that kes has gone all Dark Phoenix on us.

Kes uses her powers to change from an old woman to her youthful appearance (Why did she not do that, anyway? For the sake of dramatic impact to the audience?) and takes the place of herpast self after knocking her out with a hypospray. Kes then contacts the Vidiians who have been pursuing Voyager with an offer--she will give them tactical info on the ship, allowing the crew to be harvested for organs, if she and her past self are allowed safe passage to Ocampa. The Vidiiansd agree. We still do not know Kes’ motivations, only that she feels abandoned by the Voyager crew. Star Trek veteran actor Vaughn Armstrong makes what I assume is his shortest appear age ever. He gets less than two minutes of screen time as the Vidiian kes communicates with on a desktop monitor.

As a matter of plot convenience, Tuvok suddenly has a never before mentioned and hereafter ignored ability to sense faint echoes of time travel. In the first season time period, he seems aware of Seven, Naomi Wildman, and the Delta Flyer. something is not quite right about Kes, but what it is remains ambiguous enough for three acts worth of mystery before Janeway confronts Kes during the Vidiian attack. I hasten to mention vidiians board the ship in one scene that lasts only long enough for an exchange of phasor volleys. It is an action scene for the sake of having an action scene for the sake of having an action scene. Rather pointless, particularly considering how anticlimactic the space battle is. The Vidiians break it off and run.

The fight with the Vidiians is tossed aside quickly because the emphasis is on the physical confrontation between Janeway and Kes. Conveniently, Kes’ powers seem a lot less potent during the fight. While at the beginning of the episode she was blasting the ship apart and killed torres effortlessly, she only manages to knock Janeway down a few times. Perhaps I should chalk that up to Janeway being awesome. Before Janeway kills Kes--c’mon, you knew she would--Kes reveals her motivation--she was not quite ready for the big, bad universe and had no one to protect her. It is all Voyager’s fault.

Excuse me? Kes left of her own accord. No one wanted her to go. Even so, if she was not ready for the nasty bits of reality that are out there, it is her fault, not anyone else’s. We never even learn what traumatized her so badly the writers obviously meant to leave her experienced horrors up to the imagination, but instead of conjuring up visions of the cruelties of life, I am left marveling at what a flimsy excuse for a childish tantrum Kes has rationalized.

Not time to fret about that, though. Janeway awakens the real Kes and asks her to make a recording for her future self to be played upon her attack in the sixth season. Only Kes, Tuvok, and Janeway know about it from the first season on. I do not even want to think about the retroactive continuity problems that causes. When future Kes attacks, Janeway knows to clear out engineering, thereby saving Torres, and shows future Kes the message from her past self. The message explains exactly what I just did--all her choices were her own. She cannot blame anyone else. Future Kes decides against taking revenge and instead allows Janeway to help her go home. How she will make it 40,000 light years in a shuttle before she dies of old age is anyone’s guess.

The conclusion creates a version of the grandfather paradox. Future Kes travels back in time to the first season, does her thing, gets killed, and all that leads to her past self making a recording to convince her not to travel back in time again. It works, which means the catalyst for past Kes to create the recording never happens. So where is the startying point? It is a causal loop without a beginning. I hate those.

I am not a big fan of “Fury,” either. It is an excuse for lots of special effects shots with no heart or logic to it. Once Kes’ motivation is revealed, the episode becomes an eve bigger letdown. Lein deserved a far better send off than this thrown together junk. I would have preferred they never brought her back as opposed to this.

Rating: * (out of 5)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Red Dwarf--"The End"

I mentioned a while back I might double up on television reviews until the end of the year for the sake of variety. Red Dwarf probably was not on anyone’s wish list, but it is a recent discovery I have enjoyed, so the British science fiction sitcom gets the nod. If you are not a fan, you should not fret too much. The Star Trek: Voyager reviews will keep going until they end. I will start another, short lived series with reviews running concurrently with Red Dwarf when the time comes. There are only a scant 55 episodes of Red Dwarf to cover, though due to the BBC’s interesting production schedules, the episodes stretch from 1988 to 2009 with another series announced for late 2012.

Red Dwarf carries on a theme very similar to VOY. It involves a misfit crew on a mining vessel in the far future making their way back to Earth. “The End” is used to set up the premise and introduce us to the main characters. The star of the show is David Lister, a lazy slob at the bottom of the pecking order. Lister has joined Red Dwarf, a ship from the Jupiter Mining Corporation, in order to save up enough money to buy a farm on Fiji to settle down with his cat. His immediate superior is Arnold Rimmer, an over-ambitious, by the book sort who aspires to be far more than his talent will allow. Along with Lister, Rimmer is the lowest of the low, but what little power he has, he uses far too excessively. When we first meet the two, they are repairing a vending machine. It is just another boring task to Lister, but to Rimmer, ir might as well be marching into battle.

Rimmer is on the verge of taking the officer’s exam yet again. He has already failed it eleven times, but he keeps at it. This time he has a cannot miss plan--he is going to cheat by writing the answers on his arms. But when the test time comes, he is so nervous, he sweats off the answers. Having spent his time preparing ’cheat sheets’ rather than studying, he draws a blank, slaps his inky palm print on the test, and promptly passes out. All thid tells you everything you need to know about Rimmer. He is an insufferable jerk who lords over anyone he can to compensate for his failure to live up to his ambitions. He will lie, cheat, and abuse anyone in sight when his lying and cheating fails to get him where he wants to go.

Lister, on the other hand, is a likable guy, although his lackadaisical attitude towards literally everything would probably be grating if you actually had to depend on him. Naturally, his personality gets on Rimmer’s nerves, and that is going to be a running theme throughout the show’s run. Lister is not too bright, either, as is shown in the set up for the show’s overall story arc. Lister has smuggled a pregnant cat on board the ship. Unquarantined animals are forbidden, so when it is discovered he has the cat because he sent photos down to the photo lab to be developed, the captain of Red Dwarf: give up the cat for dissection to determine if it is carrying any disease or be put in stasis for the rest of the trip.

Lister chooses the latter. Unfortunately for everyone else, there was a radiation leak because Lister was not around to do needed repairs. The computer, Holly, brings Lister out of stasis once the radiation levels are safe, but that is three million years in the future. Lister’s reaction to the news and Holly’s response ‘Everybody’s dead, Dave," is so iconic among those ultra-geeky enough to have seen Red Dwarf, I have to include the real deal:The real Rimmer is dead, Dave, but he is revived as a sentient hologram, as noted by the ’H” on his forehead. He acts identical to the real Rimmer, much to Lister’s chagrin, but is not solid. Remember this is long before the Doctor on VOY or even Al from Quantum Leap, so the idea of a holographic character was new at the time.

Lister and Rimmer soon encounter Cat, a descendent of Lister’s old cat who has evolved into a human with all the worst feline qualities. Cat is selfish, vain, and possessive. He is also very, very dumb, so he serves much more as comic relief apart from the plot than participating in much of anything Lister and Rimmer do. That will change as the show progresses into more of an ensemble piece, but for now, the comedy grows out of the antagonistic relationship between Lister and Rimmer as they turn the ship around and take on the likely impossible task of making it back to Earth.

“The End” is heavy on introducing all the characters. As I said, that is where most of the laughs originate. I have to admit, there are not a great many laughs in the premiere episode. The actors do not get much of a chance to shine because so much time is spent on setting up the show. Literally the entire plot is established in the final six or seven minutes of the episode. However, it is worth watching because of the set up. The entire first series will be devoted to fleshing out the characters and giving them a chance to engage in their respective antics.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Star Trek: Voyager--"Muse"

“Muse” is Joe Menosky’s swan song for Star Trek Menosky has been one of my favorite writers for the franchise. He specialized in high concept stories that did not always work, but when they did, they were thought provoking experiences. I count ’Muse” among one of his best efforts. I like it not only for its quality, but for the subtle tweaks at how the series has been dumbed down more than it should have in order to fit in with network television.

I had not considered external factors affecting the series when watching VOY in the past or reviewing it now. My general assumption has been that syndicated series are considered lesser shows--aspiring writers are advised sending a spec script for syndicated series to a prospective agent is the kiss of death--but perhaps the red headed stepchild status of syndicated series applies only to the business end. Is there more creative freedom to explore tough issues and bend the rules/ Maybe so. I doubt anyone would argue network series like VOY and ENT surpass the syndicated TNG or DS9. Higher budgets, more expensive advertising, and network interference must lead to a “safer” product being put out there.

Such seems to be the underlying message of “Muse.” Menosky sounds as though he regrets being subdued by the format of the television format, wherein each act has to have a certain element in order to progress the syory predictably and a needed bit of drama at which to cut to commercial. There is no room to experiment. As I have noted above, experiment with stories is what Mrnosky is all about. If nothing else, at least we know now why television is so formulaic. There is a formula to it that every wannabe writer must learn.

To the story: Torres and Harry have crashed the Delta Flyer--speaking of formulaic-- on a planet that resembles a cross between ancient Greece, though not absurdly enough to fit in with some of the sillier TOS planets that are way too much like Earth. Harry jettisoned an escape pod and is missing for most of the episode. Torres is unconscious for eight days, which sounds very bad, but this is VOY, so she is perfectly fine. She is discovered by a playwright named Kelis. Somehow, he accesses the ship’s logs to learn all about Voyager and the crew. From what he learns, he writes a hit play. When his matron demands another, Kelis mines Torres for more ideas in exchange for his gathering supplies she needs to repair the Delta Flyer.

There is a war brewing in the backdrop. Kelis believes the people’s minds can be turned away from the prospect of fighting if his play can convey that love and peace should win out over the fear and hatred currently running through the people. Torres is skeptical such a thing can happen. When tensions are about to boil over into a war, the last thing people care about is love. The negative emotions are too strong. Kelis partially agrees, as does the Wise Old Man of the acting troupe. They both concede contemporary writers adhere to the same old, same old in order to manipulate the audience into feeling certain ways rather than challenging them to come to conclusions themselves.

What is funny is how Kelis’ play in progress resembles VOY as a series, warts and all. Janeway and Chakotay are thrust into an implausible romance devoid of any emotion, which is exactly what the romance would be like, contrary to those fans clamoring for it. The actor playing Tuvok resents the emotionless part because it limits his range. The audience might think he is a bad actor because of how dry the character is. Janeway is on a quest to murder the Borg Queen in a brutal act of revenge in which she does not care who is injured in the process, yet tosses her plan aside in the end when one suspects it might be wise to go through with it. Because, you know, Janeway is crazy. The play is presented as absurd because Kelis is not getting it right according to Torres, yet he is actually spot on.

If there is any problem with “Muse,” is is the ending in which Torres herself improvises the conclusion to the play, beaming out at the last moment in a dazzling display. The smash ending presumably convinces the people to silence the war drums, but I am skeptical there is enough juice in order to accomplish that. It is left up in the air, so I suppose it is reasonable to assume it did not, but that preventing the war is an issue that matters only to Kelis. The play’s the thing, so to speak.

“Muse" is a very good episode. I have a hunch Menosky might have been given more freedom to make it that way since it was to be his final script. There are no explosions, gun battles, weird aliens, or an angst moral dilemma. There are not even a whole lot of science fiction elements. The episode is almost entirely Torres and Kelis working through their respective tasks while relying on each other for aid and insight. It is a breath of fresh air among many really bad, clichéd episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Live Fast and Prosper"

Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit. I have seen a VOY episode I enjoyed for the first time in about two weeks. I was beginning to lose hope there. “Live Fast and Prosper” is a fun episode involving the Voyager crew conning con artists. I cannot say the con game was masterfully done in the sense I figured right off the bat the climax was a ruse on the con artists that did not go far to conceal itself as such, but I went with it anyway and wound up having a good time.

After Tom and Neelix encounter a trio of con artists posing as members of a religious sect, the three of them decide posing as the Voyager crew would be more profitable. They steal the database from the Delta Flyer under Tom and Neelix’s noses so they can play the crew perfectly. They leave a trail across the Delta Quadrant of aliens angry over being treated out of valuable and paid for Fderation “memberships” that do not pan out.

The real Voyager tracks them down, but can only capture the one posing as Janeway. She will not reveal where all the items they stole are located, so the crew launches a scheme in which it appears she is allowed to escape so they will lead them to the treasure trove. It is a rather flimsy ruse a professional con artist should have seen through, but I tossed aside my cynicism enough to go with it. The con job works. All the stolen items and money are returned with the con artists being brought to justice.

Here is the $64,000 question: who has the worse reputation in the Delta Quadrant, the faux Voyager with their cheating aliens out of money and property or the real Voyager, whose actions have lead to genocide across 45,000 light years?? It is an amusing question to ponder in consideration of who is supposed to have had the most negative impact on others here.

“Live Fast and Prosper” is also legitimately amusing if you do not scrutinize it much. I think if one is going to write an episode centered around con artistry, it is probably wise to consuly someone who knows about that sort of thing to create a more convincing scam. Penn and Teller are science fiction fans who consistently work in television. It would have been neat to see what they could have devised. Regardless, the episode is frivolous fun very much worth watching.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Good Shepherd"

“Good Shepherd” is a nice change of pace from the type of episodes we have suffered through as of late. It is not a particularly involved or original story, but it is a pleasant hour of VOY without any of the usual pronounce flaws. It is a sad state of affairs when such faint praise is considered a high compliment, but that is late season VOY for you.

“Good Shepherd” has hints of TNG’s ”Lower Decks” with its emphasis on junior crewmen in over their heads. We even get the same feel of Picard’s clique being far separated from the lower deck characters with some nifty camera angles and long shots comparing Janeway’s position on the ship--above everyone else, naturally--and those of our misfit characters, who are at the lowest of the low. The plot brings them all together as Janeway leads a routine away mission to get them more involved in ship’s operations.

The three junior crewmembers include a jittery screw up, a hypochondriac, and a loner who needed a year’s worth of deep space experience in order to get into an astrophysics study program. These three are the kind of crewmembers who would have either washed out or been reassigned by now to find be suitable places for them, but stranded in the Delta Quadrant, Janeway as little recourse but whip them into shape the best way she can. I use the term whip deliberately. She winds up shooting the hypochondriac before the episode’s end. Granted, he was possessed by an alien, but you just know she was itching to seriously injure one of them as a message to the other two she means business. The sad part is that it works, though it had to work that quickly as time was running out.

It is the timing that is “Good Shepherd”’s biggest flaw. We spend a lot of time getting to know the crewmember’s and their trouble’s. The only one who goes beyond stereotype is the loner. As I said above, he never wanted to join Starfleet. He had to have a year of space service to continue his studies. Now he is stranded in the Delta Quadrant for likely decades. He is extremely angry at Janeway for ruining his life. It should come as no surprise Janeway is flippant about his complaints, which I am not entirely convinced is not a passive-aggressive response to his general insubordination. Or maybe she feeds of the broken lives of others. Who knows? What I do know is that when antimatter aliens appear in the fourth act to finally get the action started, it all ends with an explosoion and everything turning out all right in the end.

What were those antimatter aliens and what did they want? We do not know. They were just ghrow in there in order to have a science fiction element added to the personal drama. There is no point to them being there, and the time spent on what little involvement there was with them caused time to run short for a decent resolution to the crewmembers’ stories. In short, everything is all right because the writers say it is. We will never see any of these characters again, anyway.

In the grand scheme of things, “Good Shepherd” is a missed opportunity. The conflict of VOY was supposed to be about Starfleet and Maquis personnel forced to work together even though they resent each other exasperated by the cabin fever inherent of being trapped in a flying tin can for 75 years. There ought to be a lot more drama bording on mutiny. But not only are these crewmen not maquis, they are not even the amoral Equinox crew. There was an opportunity here to revisit old themes in a moment of rare continuity, but it gets thrown out the window in favor of three characters we have never seen before who are just having a hard time fitting in. If the narrative goes the Voyager crew has held together all this time because Janeway has firmly maintained the chain of command, why is she noe acting like everyone’s buddy? The away mission feels at times like a teenage slumber party. Janeway is surprisingly subdued even when she is being berated for stranding them in the Delta Quadrant. Then again, I do think much of her response was passive aggressive. She did get to shoot one of them, too, and that was the catalyst for everything falling into place with them. Maybe janeway is being consistent here after all.

“Good Shepherd” is not great, bt it is different enough to merit viewer interest. We do not get to know or care about these junior crewmembers like we did in “Lower Decks,’ nor do we come away with any new perspective on Janeway. The alien encounter is ridiculously abrupt and leaves us hanging. Nevertheless, the episode has fewer flaws than most of the entries in the sixth season, so it wins a passable grade.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Friday, October 21, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Child's Play"

I feel compelled to make screen caps like this one every now and then just to highlight how VOY frequently uses out of the ordinary camera angles just to emphasize Jeri Ryan’s anatomy. You cannot tell by the screen caps, but when Ryan is being shot from behind, she only allows a shot to hold for a second or two before clasping her hands behind her back, which offers some cover for her derriere. This happens so often, I wonder if it is a conscious act on her part to not be so exploited. Jolene Blalock would go on to complain her breasts were treated with the same odd angle shots on ENT. It seems to be a Star Trek motif to bring in the fourteen year old male eyeballs and hopefully distract from the awful scripts. It is just an observation that struck me as odd considering what a pivotal conversation the two characters are having above. It is not the conversation to which the viewer is paying attention.

Star Trek has a peculiar habit of maintaining a certain story for four acts, then offering up a twist in the final act that serves two purposes: shock value and the rendering of all previous acts mute. It is a risky storytelling technique. If the twist fails to satisfy, everything that went before, even if it was engrossing, feels like a waste. “child’s Play” is unique. It fit’s the formula of a wild twist negating the previous acts that boggles the mind, yet what went before was so well done, the episode is not a total wash. It is amazing. Voyager often fails by accident, but it rarely succeeds in spite of its incompetence.

It is a Seven episode, of course, but cleverly disguised as an Ichab episode. Voyager locates Ichab’s parents. How they do this is never established, but the poor kid is the progeny of Tracey Ellis, who played two different mentally ill characters on The X-Files, and Romo Lampkin himself, Mark Shephard, with a bloodline like that, we all should have seen something was up from the beginning.

“Child’s Play” appears to set up a cosmic custody battle. That aspect of the episode is done quite well. Seven has not only grown attached to Ichab as a member of her surrogate family, his imminent departure brings back strong emotions about her parents. Whether it was because of direct negligence or not, they allowed Ichab to be assimilated by the borg just as her parent’s did. They did not put their child first just as seven’s parents put their research goals ahead of her best interests. Seven rationalizes any excuse--it is a backward, agricultural planet, Ichab has special medical needs, and he is a genius as astrophysics, but there will be no resources for him to pursue that field of study--to convince his parents to give him up. She is bolstered early on by Ichab’s reluctance to remain with parents he does not remember. But he eventually warms up to them and decides to stay.

All the things I just described are what the episode does well. It is an interesting and emotional story about Seven coming to terms with childhood trauma, Ichab finding the place where he belongs, and a broken family reuniting. Then it gets blown all to smithereens by the twist.

Seven discovers, quite by accident, Ichab was not assimilated in a freak happenstance like his father told her, but was alone in a shuttlecraft at the time. As it turns out, Ichab’s people are geniuses with gentics and created him as a biological weapon. His home planet is less than a light year away from a Borg transwarp conduit. Anytime they detect new technology, they come through the conduit, kick some heinie, and assimilate the technology. The plan was for Ichab to be assimilated and introduce a pathogen which destroyed whichever borg Cube he was on. Keep in mind it is deliberately stated the pathogen will only destroy the Borg on the ship in which Ichab is traveling, not the whole Borg Collective. Now that he is back, Ichab’s parents plan to do it again before Voyager rescues him from a Borg Sphere.

So we go from an emotional drams wherein ichab’s parents appear desperate to reunite with a son they thought lost forever to learning the only thing they are happy about is getting a second shot at killing some Borg. Think about it. This is not really committing an evil act for the greater good argument, though I think the writer intended it to be. Ichab is only going to kill off the Borg on one ship. Not only will that not stop the borg from attacking the planet, but it is likely to bring on an armada to investigate. When the Borg do, will they not decide the people on the only inhabited planet nearby are responsible and wipe them out/ maybe the Borg would not go to that extreme, but they are not going to be discouraged from attacking, either. Ichab’s parents are essentially Al Qeada--destroy the World Trade Center and surely the united states will not retaliate with what would likely be a generational war, right?

Upon his rescue and permanent return to Voyager, Ichab laments that since was never intended to be anything but a weapon against the Borg, perhaps he has failed to fulfill his destiny. (Never mind that he already killed off an entire cube’s worth of Borg, minus the children.) The destiny angle is glossed over for the usual message of self-determination for ex-Borg who have been liberated from the Borg Collective. I am okay with that. As one who frequently measures the moral shades of gray in acts for the greater good on this blog, even I have to say having a kid to blow up a single ship is completely wrong. It reminds me of Hamas loading up their kids with dynamite and marching them off to murder as many Israelis as possible. That ain’t like dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, folks.

‘child’s play” is not a bad episode in spite of the weird climactic turn it takes. I still found Seven’s emotional turmoil interesting enough to overlook the cheap con job we were given with Icghab’s parents. If they had been genuine, too, the episode might have ranked as above average. Not great, mind you. The personal drama is not that significant, but the ending comes so far out of left field, one feels cheated by everything but the goings on with Seven. But in the otherwise terrible sixth season, that is enough to merit calling “Child’s Play” a highlight.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Ashes to Ashes"

As a longtime comic book fan, I accept retroactive continuity as a necessary part of keeping long running series interesting. There are comics that have run seventy years now--or at least there were until DC Comics’ latest cash grab--so ‘new’ things have to be revealed that have allegedly been there the entire time for the sake of new twists. But VOY has not been around for seventy years. It has only cursed the viewing public for six years by the airing of “Ashes to Ashes,” so when such a short history has to be altered for the sake of a single episode, it seems lazy and incompetent rather than necessary to keep things fresh. “Ashes to Ashes” throws continuity completely out the window while forcing another Hard Luck Harry in Love episode.

We meet Lindsey Ballard first the first time in “Ashes to Ashes.” Ballard is supposed to have been a member of the crew from the beginning. She is also a close friend of Harry’s since the Academy. Ballard died three years ago on an away mission with Harry. She was killed by the Hirogen. After her casket was shot in space, it was retrieved by the Kobali, an alien race who procreate by reanimating the dead and turning them into new people. Sometimes the new person retains more memory of his or her past life than others. Ballard remembers her old self enough to escape, track down Voyager, and return to her old life. Ultimately, she cannot resume her old life because there is too much Kobali in her, so she returns home, breaking Harry’s heart in the process.

The premise of reanimating the dead to make into a new person is intriguing. I am uncertain whether glossing over the existential and ethical issues of the process in favor of the identity crisis aspects is wise. Bringing back the dead raises questions of the afterlife that should bug both the religious and the skeptical in the way it is presented. If you are religious, VOY just smacked your beliefs in the afterlife right between the eyes. If you are a skeptic, VOY just ambiguously claimed there is some essence of humans that can live on in other after the body is dead. No one can be happy what ballard’s return either way. ’Ashes to Ashes” decides to skip all that and go straight for the emotionalism of a young woman trying to resume her life, but cannot. The emotional impact is minimal, though, because we do not know eho the heck Ballard is. She is a guest star to whom we have no attachment. We have to understand how meaningful her return is by the loving reactions of the crew, but those can only take us so far. Ballard is terribly forgettable.

The lack of connection between Ballard’s plight and the audience might be forgivable if there was a shred of continuity, but this episode is just throw together without regards to anything that has gone before. Part of Harry’s character is that he was naïve and alone on Voyager, so Janeway felt like she needed to look after him. Now we discover his first love from the Academy was assigned to Voyager from the beginning. He was still carrying a torch for her even though he had a fiancee. Ballard was killed by the Hirogen three years ago. Voyager did not encounter the Hirogen until two years ago, and they are now 30,000 light years away. How did Ballard cross 30,000 light years in six months to find Voyager, especially when all she had was a small shuttle? It is huge plot holes like these that ruin an episode.

The B-story involves seven having a difficult time playing nursemaid to the unruly former Borg children, but she solves the problem by becoming less rigid. Maybe she should have let Janeway randomly kill one of them like she apparently did the infant who has never and will never be seen or heard from again. Continuity, folks. The writers could at least be consistent for two episodes. Geez.

“Ashes to Ashes” has some flaws, but its heart is in the right place. As a standalone episode, it is watchable, though does not have the emotional impact one would wish for. Perhaps if Ballard had been a past, established character who really had died in an episode. 9Then again, maybe not. The return of Kes is fast approaching. It is not going to be much, either.) The episode really falls apart when it is taken as part of the whole. It is nothing but plot holes in that regard. I give it an unenthusiastic, but not panning rating.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Spirit Folk"

“Spirit Folk” is a return to the fair town of fair haven, and that ain’t fair. Was anyone clamoring to revisit the worst of the annual holodeck settings? Our second visit to Fair Haven is even worse than the first because every holodeck malfunction cliché is waiting to greet us. Welcome to a main contender for worst episode of VOY ever.

The crew has kept the Fair Haven running with an open door policy since tom restored it. The problem is the characters have begun to notice the Voyager are not who they claim to be. The townspeople witness alterations to the program, the arch appearing, and the computer voice. They suspect witchcraft, which is confirmed in their minds when Tom replaces harry’s girlfriend with a cow just as they are about tyo smooch. Excruciatingly long story short, they capture the two in order to cleanse Fair Haven of evil spirits. Barring that, they will burn them alive. The safety protocols are offline, of course.

I would like to be fair--just to use that word yet again--and give “Spirit Folk” credit for any shred of orinality, but there is none to be had. Star Trek has already dealt with the issue of whether holodeck characters are sentient with Dr. Moriarty on TNG. It has already established holograms can work just fine knowing their surroundings are not real with Vic Fontaine on DS9. Lord knows, we have seen numerous stories about crewmembers put in danger because the safety protocols are offline. “Spirit folk’ ignors everything that has gone before it. The writers seem to be forgetting we have seen this all before and note that whatever is not contradictory to what has gone before is so cliché, the episode writes itself in the audience’s minds.

In case you were able to overlook all that, there is plenty of willful stupidity on behalf of the regular characters to ruin things. I will tell you how bad it gets--the voice of reason is Torres. Torres. when he remaining senior staff brainstorms ways to save tom and Harry, Torres, frustrated with the slow progress, asks why they do not just cut power to the holodeck. That sounds like a solution that should have occurred to them in the first place. No, says janeway, because--wait for it--the crew is emotionally attached to Fair Haven and she does not want to destroy it if she does not have to do so. That is right. Janeway is going to risk the lives of two of her crewmen because of emotional attachment to a fictional place--a fictional place that can be recreated from scratch later. We know that it can be recreated with no problems because it already has been once before! Yes, folks. Janeway is crazy.

The catalyst for the rescue of Tom and Harry involves one of the townspeople successfully hypnotizing the Doctor. No more needs to be said about "Spirit Folk."

There is no reason whatsoever to watch “Spirit Folk.” It is not exciting. It is not funny. There is no human drama in it. You have seen every bit of it before in past holodeck-centric episodes, so you will either be bored to see the same old same old or irritated at the ignoring of established themes. That is right. You will either hate that you have seen it all before or hate that it is contradictory to all that you have seen before. The episode cannot win. Skip it at all costs.

Rating; * (out of 5)