Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Next Generation 1x16 "Too Short a Season"


There's a kind of morbid curiosity to watching "Too Short a Season," which is like a reverse of the classic "Deadly Years," only it features a new character who never gains the viewer's sympathy.

An aging admiral visits on the way to one last glorious mission, returning to a world he once negotiated peace for, and like a repudiation of the accomplishes of the past (i.e. the original series), he still gets it glaringly wrong, and only our righteous new crew can set things right.

Of course, the reverse "Deadly Years" means that our aging admiral grows younger, like Benjamin Button, because he's taken special medication.  Only he's taken too much of it and just keeps getting younger.  His wife is horrified.  He's perfectly pleased, especially when he gets to leave his special wheelchair and walk again.  But he just keeps getting younger.  The crew becomes alarmed when it becomes obvious, and even the guy he's preparing to meet scoffs at the development.

The real problem is that the aging makeup is terrible.  I mean terrible.  It was bad enough on McCoy in "Encounter at Farpoint," but no attempt has been made in the intervening time to improve on it.  And the effect is absolutely crucial to the episode.

I don't care if you think "Too Short a Season" makes light of older generations.  I don't care if you're perfectly fine with the makeup.  The fact is that it's still not a good episode, and is dominated too thoroughly by a character of the week.

Watch it as a morbid curiosity.  It's the only one I'll give you from this season.  Just remember that I warned you, and that it gets better.

The other thing you might keep in mind about it is that "Season" establishes Next Generation's abysmal relationship with Starfleet admirals.  If you want to mark that.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

The Next Generation 1x15 "11001001"


The episode with the binary title is a step in the right direction for the young Next Generation, and aside from anything immediately relevant to the story itself features strong character work for Riker.

Like Kirk before him, Picard's first officer was pegged as a ladies man, which grew complicated initially when it was deemed that he'd also serve as a surrogate for Gene Roddenberry's holdover character sketches from The Motion Picture and be paired romantically, at least as a matter of backstory, with Troi.

In "11001001" Riker gets around that by romancing a hologram, the first of many to be more than just a hologram in this series (setting the stage for an even more distinctive hologram in Voyager), thanks to the shenanigans of the aliens both servicing the Enterprise and trying to take advantage of the crew that has vacated it for the occasion (sadly, not the only time that would happen, so you can watch this for precedent if you'd like, even for the similar Enterprise episode "The Catwalk").

But this is another one I don't want to inflate too much.  As for the character work, there's also Data's budding career as an artist, which became a much bigger deal in later seasons, which kind of makes this an origin story.

Still, watch it for Riker first and best of all, and for the charming Minuet, one of very few memorable romantic interests from this series.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

The Next Generation 1x14 "Angel One"

While this one breaks some ground for the young series, including a redefinition of the Prime Directive and the first mention of Romulans, "Angel One" you can safely skip.

It's not horrible like the previous episodes from the season that you should skip ("Justice," "Code of Honor,"), but it features another hamfisted society, this time a matriarchal one that has basically turn its male half into metrosexuals, which proves incredibly awkward for the very much male Riker.  As if that weren't enough, the crew passes a cold around, which seems mostly an excuse to see Crusher in action, plus get a few characters to do different things, for instance La Forge briefly assuming command.  Because it's not as if he has anything better to do just at the moment, not being chief engineer yet.

Yet it's all thoroughly unremarkable, another sign in a long line of them to indicate that Next Generation had not yet achieved its distinctive flavor.  In fact, if anything "Angel One" plays like a bad version of an original series episode, not any in particular, just a painfully generic one.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Next Generation 1x13 "Datalore"


You'd best settle in with "Datalore," since it's the last episode you really need to see from the first season of Next Generation until the last few.

It's a good way to go, though!  In case the title doesn't give you any ideas, let me cut it a little short: Lore.  Lore, as in Data's evil brother.

Now, in the off chance that you're not at all familiar with Next Generation, Data, or much less Lore, let me just say that if it had only been the one episode, "evil brother" could very well have been an unfortunate gimmick, even if the rest of the episode remains pretty fascinating, because there's more that you need to gleam from "Datalore" besides Lore.

(And I'm not even referring to "Shut up, Wesley!")

The episode also establishes the Crystalline Entity.  This is one of the more ambitious and mysterious alien lifeforms ever conceived in Star Trek (and would be seen again to greater effect in "Silicone Avatar"), a faceless being of apparent sheer destruction, perhaps like rogue probes in "Changeling" as well as The Motion Picture and The Voyage Home, and perhaps the best example of what Q was hoping Picard would figure out in Next Generation following the trial begun in the pilot and ended in the finale.

Note to anyone who cares: if you were interested in retelling the story of Data, it would be absolutely essential to include the Crystalline Entity.

There's plenty of Data's story in "Datalore," including his specific origins.  The funny thing about Data was that even though there were androids running around the original series, including dubious "followers" of the nefarious Harry Mudd (imagine if they made a movie out of him!), Starfleet treats Data as pretty unique thanks to his intricate programming and abilities.  Also because until "Datalore" he's believed to be unique.  Turns out there was at least one other model executed by his creator, one that didn't suffer from the same social setbacks and therefore proven very meddlesome (and that's before Lore unleashes the Crystalline Entity that wiped out all life on the colony where Data was later rediscovered).

There's plenty of fascinating material to be found here, but I hesitate to give it the full rating because, well, it's basically a pretty clear offering from the first, imperfect season.  Thank the creators that it exists and possibly move along.  Yes, Wesley is the only one who seems to notice that Lore tries to replace Data, and hears "Shut up!" twice during the episode for his efforts, which is yet another indication that the writers are either themselves aware that the character has already proven more annoying than they'd intended, or they keep inadvertently feeding the audience the reaction they eventually get.

And yes, it's an "evil twin" episode.  Still, by all accounts a quite noteworthy one.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Brent Spiner

Memory Alpha summary.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Next Generation 1x12 "The Big Goodbye"


Like "A Piece of the Action" before it, "The Big Goodbye" is Star Trek doing a completely different genre and coming up gangbusters.  Whether or not you hold against it that it's also the source of holodeck-run-amok episodes is up to you.

One of the unlikeliest but most enduring (famously featured in Star Trek: First Contact) features of Picard's character was his fascination with the pulp fiction detective Dixon Hill.  On the surface, this is the Dixon Hill episode.  It's also the first notable pairing of Picard and Data, who would go on to dominate the Next Generation movies

It's also good fun, and that was extremely rare, both before and after, in this series.  Deep Space Nine, which a lot of fans pegged as the darkest Star Trek, had a lot more levity.  Aside from visits by Q, Next Generation tended to be pretty sober, taking the lead of Picard, so it's that much more notable that "The Big Goodbye" actually features him in the lead.

Another element worth mentioning is the Federation historian featured in the episode.  Although between this and "Space Seed," it may not be the greatest career path in the future.

Sit back and enjoy!

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Lawrence Tierney

Memory Alpha summary.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Next Generation 1x11 "Haven"


"Haven" is the episode Gene Roddenberry was probably waiting for since the start of Next Generation, in which he finally gets to reclaim a subplot from The Motion Picture.  Riker and Troi's relationship gets shoved to the front, the element of the series borrowed from Decker and Ilia.  Thankfully the second incarnation has a more humanly happy resolution.

If there's an obvious flaw to "Haven" for long-term fans, it's most of what is established about Betazoids in the episode really doesn't end up mattering, other than a few cultural points (and the term "imzadi," which becomes the title of a book by Peter David about Riker and Troi's relationship, popular enough to warrant a rare sequel).  The series doesn't really "get" Betazoids until Troi's cloying mum, Lwaxana, begins to dominate later on.  Lwaxana does debut here, in the guise of Roddenberry's widow Majel Barrett, but if you have any memories of "Haven," perhaps it's of a young Robert Knepper (later to achieve notoriety in Prison Break) or Armin Shimerman making another early franchise appearance as the face on the side of a gift box (seriously!).

Either way, keep your focus on Next Generation's premier on-again-off-again couple (better at it than Picard and Crusher, who do get the series finale as a spotlight consolation prize), Riker and Troi, particularly Troi.  "Haven" is a little like "Amok Time" in that it features Knepper as Troi's intended suitor who doesn't end up working out (much like Worf, but that's another reference to the seventh season, which is a long way off, although if Worf were the suitor, or in Troi's line of sight here, you can bet we'd have another memorable fight on our hands).

More importantly, the episode positions Troi as more significant to the series than the first season tends to suggest.  She also steals "Skin of Evil" from the death of Tasha Yar, by the way.  In that way, it may be another sign that the writers needed to concentrate on things other than what they were bothering with at the time in order to figure itself out.  This is ironic, because here it's something Gene Roddenberry wanted.  By the third season it's basically other stuff.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Majel Barrett
Robert Knepper
Armin Shimerman
Carel Struycken (Mr. Homn)

Memory Alpha summary.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Next Generation 1x10 "Hide and Q"


Q returns!  It's odd and appropriate for that to have happened so quickly, considering he was an afterthought inclusion for "Encounter at Farpoint," created to fill out Paramount's desire to expand the first episode into two hours.  "Hide and Q," then, may represent one of the first moments where The Next Generation started reshaping itself into something better.

I should note, however, that while it does feature Q and by definition is must-see, it's also almost painfully like much of the early episodes of the series, trying to do character development by pointing out what makes the characters unique rather than writing the characters themselves.

Basically, Q comes back to pester Picard (the general synopsis for basically every appearance), but instead ends up choosing Riker to join the Q Continuum, and in a weird sort of way attempts to drag Q into the very original series mold he shattered in his first appearance.  From Gary Mitchell to Charlie X, that's what a lot of those characters did when they encountered godlike power, as Riker struggles to retain his humanity while examining the possibilities of his newfound power.

The oddest but most notable instance of Riker doing this is aging Wesley to adulthood, which just goes to show that even the writers knew that the boy wonder was probably annoying as he was.

One of the things I remember best about "Hide and Q" is the awkward moment where Worf refers to a band of alien soldiers Q has just conjured as "vicious animal things."  Yet another instance where the supposed enlightenment of Starfleet perhaps not being all that it appears to be.

The best part of Q's visit this time is allowing Picard, and Patrick Stewart, to begin voicing his enthusiasm for Shakespeare, which also helps shape the dynamic between our good captain and his true rival (sorry, Bok).

Other than all that?  It's up to you to determine how good this episode actually is.  Because pretty much every other appearance by Q, in any series, is better.  This one still smacks of the deficiencies inherent to most of Next Generation's first season.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
John de Lancie

Memory Alpha summary.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Next Generation 1x9 "The Battle"


"The Battle" is another of those episodes that holds a pretty curious legacy in Next Generation lore.  On the one hand, it's unquestionably better and more relevant than a lot of its first season brethren.  But it also exists, within the context of most of the rest of the series (aside from the seventh season sequel "Bloodlines"), curiously out of step, other than the fact that it redeems the Ferengi after their first appearance and sets them on their way to what we would know of them later.

There, you see how convoluted it is?  Let's start untangling.

In this episode we explore crucial aspects of Picard's backstory, notably his first command, the Stargazer.  This is another thing that sets Picard apart from his famous predecessor Kirk, not only the fact that he's older and more cerebral (and bald!), but that he was captain of a starship not named Enterprise.  By 1987, when Next Generation debuted, Kirk had just received command of the Enterprise-A in 1986's The Voyage Home.  He'd destroyed the refit version of the original in Search for Spock, of course, but still zipped around space in more or less continuous command of a ship called Enterprise for twenty-five years (through The Undiscovered Country).

So that means Picard had a starship before Enterprise.  That's what this boils down to.  That's what "The Battle" is all about.  The curious thing is that after "The Battle," this is pretty much forgotten (in the books, not as such).  The curious fact of his artificial heart becomes far more important later on, the subject of a far more memorable episode ("Tapestry").

Stargazer is lost thanks to Starfleet's first military encounter with the Ferengi, though it's a victory for Picard that ends up like a defeat.  He loses his ship (though not before executing the nifty Picard Maneuver) and unwittingly gains a mortal enemy, Daimon Bok.  Bok appears here and again in "Bloodlines," but I'm not sure anyone really thinks of this rivalry when considering Picard, the Ferengi, or Next Generation.  Bok's obsession even in this episode is portrayed as counterintuitive to typical Ferengi (financial) interests, by the way.

For the record, even though "The Battle" is a far better Ferengi appearance than "The Last Outpost," it's still pretty awkward as far as establishing them.  Bok is more the menace that the Ferengi were supposed to be (the new Klingons, conceptually), but Ferengi greed (like 1980s greed in general) is hard-pressed to be understood in his context.  In fact, it's so hard to reconcile that another series entirely (Deep Space Nine) is forced to make up the difference, and arguably so many fans have already had their Ferengi explained via Next Generation that it may have already been too late.

So it's best to view "The Battle" as a Picard episode, an artifact from a time before the series moved into a different gear that still manages to differentiate one captain from his famous predecessor.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Next Generation 1x8 "Justice"

"Justice" is another of those first season episodes that are better off stricken from the record.  If you wanted to torture yourself, you might watch it because it resembles "The Apple" from the original series.  You can also jab a pencil in your thigh.

This is the one where the crew visits what appears to be a pretty idyllic planet, filled with people who dress in the characteristic alternative Star Trek fashion (which is to say very little), and for a moment you think everything might be just fine.  Worf has a chance to be Worf, for instance.  Then Wesley has  a Wesleyism and is sentenced to death.

When I say "Wesleyism," I mean Wesley Crusher from the first season, a character that seems really excellent on paper (and no offense to Wil Wheaton), but you absolutely loathe because he's the most annoying character ever, and here he's helped by a stupid plot device by another native culture forced into stupid behavior that is only required so that our crew can seem morally superior, even though Star Trek typically suggests an ideology of tolerance (erm, what's up with that?).

So the rest of the episode is about the crew scrambling to find a loophole that will save a character the audience (aside from those who really enjoyed "Where No One Has Gone Before") wishes would die.  (It's no surprise that the catchphrase "Shut up, Wesley," developed by Picard in "Datalore" five episodes later, became an anthem for the fans.)

Suffice to say, while not technically as horrible as "Code of Honor," "Justice" is an episode that emphasizes all the wrong things, and is a perfect example of what The Next Generation needed to outgrow in order to earn its place in Star Trek lore.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Josh Clark

Memory Alpha summary.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Next Generation 1x7 "Lonely Among Us"


"Lonely Among Us" is an episode that's watchable but also forgettable.  It's very much the portrait of a series in development.

The title alone probably won't give you any memories of the episode, and that's pretty much indicative of the whole thing.  It's a Next Generation version of the elaborately poetic titles the original series favored, and just one of many examples of the new series trying to do what the old series did but eventually outgrowing it.  If the series hadn't developed, much less lasted more than a few seasons, "Lonely" could very well be considered memorable.  Yet it merely stands out as a not-horrible and not-memorable entry from the first season, which is to say that it does not stand out at all.

It does feature, however, Data at the start of his obsession with Sherlock Holmes, so that's something that lasts far beyond the end credits.  In a lot of ways, it's an episode that tries to do far too much, and that's what ultimately hurts it.  There's a little of "Journey to Babel" in there, a little of noncorporeal-entities-wrecking-havoc (a franchise staple), and a little of the cast development that went into a lot of these early episodes.  It is distinctly Next Generation material, which at this point is something worth celebrating, something that fans following the new series would recognize, and fans who have continued to follow the franchise will find familiar as well.  It's a template, a messy one, but a template all the same.  Little by little, the series learns to distinguish itself.

The dress uniforms of the modern era (at least until the new uniforms and their own dress uniforms appear starting in 1996) are introduced, though they remain somewhat baffling (originally looking very much like...dresses, even on the men).  Kirk was always getting into new uniforms in his day, so it's nice to see that tradition continued.  Picard would later add to his own collection of variations, but not for several seasons.

I originally earmarked this episode as skippable, but changed my mind (that happens a lot as I work on writing each episode up).  You could skip "Loney Among Us," but there are things worth seeing.  It's not horrible, like the truly skippable episodes (and there are plenty from this season).  You could watch it as a fan of the formative develop of the series, or even just as a fan of the franchise.  But just don't put too much weight on its value.  Unless you want to.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Colm Meaney
Marc Alaimo

Memory Alpha summary.

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