Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Coming up in the Companion...

While we take a brief hiatus, here's a few things worth looking forward to:

Our look at Star Trek: The Next Generation's third season concludes with thirteen final episodes, including a whopping five additional new classics.  Tune in to see what they are!  Following this, we'll tackle the three seasons of the original series, plus the animated series, and then in the remaining order every season not already covered from throughout the franchise, which means five more seasons of TNG, six of Deep Space Nine, four from Voyager, and two from Enterprise.  If you want to see what we've already done, have a look at the links above (which includes some special features on Q and Miles O'Brien in case you hadn't noticed).

With the impending release of Star Trek Into Darkness and the buzz around J.J. Abrams taking on directing duties with rival franchise Star Wars, now's as good a time as any to refresh or familiarize yourself with one of the legends of onscreen science fiction!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Next Generation 3x13 "Deja Q"


In his last appearance ("Q Who?") Q made a play of wanting to join Picard's crew, but ended up going on and on about the same kind of ideas that had brought humanity to the Continuum's attention to begin with, whether or not it was ready to take the next step.  He seemed to come to the reluctant conclusion that humans were not as barbarous as they first appeared, yet also far less capable than they imagined themselves to be (well, meeting the Borg will do that).

This time around he does join the crew, although no one's happy about it.  For one, Q has been banished from the Continuum, stripped of his powers and made for all intents and purposes human (by his own choice!) for being unruly.  As always, no one's happy to see him, but that hardly proves a challenge, even in Q's diminished capacity.

What's perhaps equally interesting is the B-story, which is a strict contrast to some of the less memorable episodes of the third season to this point, our crew facing a crisis on one of those alien-worlds-of-the-week, yet interacting with it only via viewscreen, maintaining a strict distance between the two, so that or crew can do what it does and the viewer doesn't have to worry too much about the anonymous folk that rarely have any significance anyway.  And yes, it's a model that Star Trek uses in earnest from this point forward.

Anyway, the whole point is that there's a crisis the crew is trying to handle, and immediately suspects Q being behind, although all things truly are equal in this instance.  Q really has lost his powers and the crisis is most definitely happening.  Eventually this puts our impish acquaintance under the care of Data, the android who wishes to become more human, or as far as this episode is concerned the polar opposite of Q.

The third season, strangely enough, took its time getting around to addressing Data, who had previously stolen the entire second season with a single episode, "The Measure of a Man," in which his rights as an individual were put on trial.  That would always be a tough act to follow, so perhaps it's not surprising that the creative forces who sought to drastically reshape the whole series approached Data from a distance.  He was perhaps the last element that needed any fixing.

Yet "Deja Q" begins a more sober approach, presenting him on more equal terms, less a curiosity than before.  It's by no means an episode worth watching if you're only following the arc of Data, but it's a beginning, a new beginning, much as it is for Q.  Watching the two together, this is probably the only moment they could have synced up together.  You may recall that at first Q was obsessed with Riker, and yet the writers realized perhaps as much as Q that Picard was his true foil, and from this point on, at least in Next Generation, there's very little remaining to separate them.  For one moment it's Data, however, who intrigues Q, because Q sees the android not as an artificial being or for his awesome abilities, but very much as Q is at the moment himself, merely an imperfect being, striving to be better than what he is, even if that may seem contradictory.

It's a subtle moment of clarity, and you have to pay attention to catch it.  The episode itself doesn't draw too much attention to it, but there it is.  Sometimes it's easy to think of Q simply as the annoying pest who happened to be extremely entertaining.  Yet the genius of the character was that he was always much more than that.  This was the episode to prove it, and it's a great success.

franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
John de Lancie
Whoopi Goldberg
Corbin Bernsen

Memory Alpha summary.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Next Generation 3x12 "The High Ground"


This is another episode that could've been so much better than it ultimately was, and unfortunately has a lot of other Star Trek that's better, namely any Bajoran episode, whether in Next Generation itself or Deep Space Nine.  It's also essentially a Dr. Crusher episode, and that's almost never a good thing.

"The High Ground" is about terrorism.  Crusher is kidnapped by terrorists, in fact, and is forced to come to terms with their thoughts on why they're killing people to get their message across.  Star Trek has had a shocking emphasis on terrorism over the years, which only changed in the aftermath of 9/11, when an entire storyline was built around it.  We were meant to sympathize with the Bajorans who regularly participated in terrorist attacks, for example.  The line was only drawn with the Maquis, who were summarily declared to be Federation rebels, enemies of Picard and Sisko and only reluctantly absorbed into Janeway's crew, on the strength of its more idealistic and qualified representatives.

Like other episodes that don't quite succeed, "High Ground" fails by featuring another alien-culture-of-the-week, which is something some Star Trek fans enjoy and also drives other fans crazy.  Randomness is only effective when the central characters really connect, and as I said, this is a Crusher episode.  Not the best way to connect.

Gates McFadden has the distinction of being the only franchise series regular to have a gap in their record.  For many reasons, she was dropped from the Next Generation cast after the first season, only to return in the third and thereafter remain, including appearances in its four movies.  Yet Beverly Crusher remained a maddeningly ineffective character, thanks to McFadden's remoteness as a performer.  This is not to say that she wasn't memorable at moments, or that if you see her or one of her episodes you should immediately find the skip button.  It's just that, she was a constant challenge.  "The High Ground" is one such moment where the challenge turned out to be a failure.

It's also an episode that slips your mind the longer it's been since you've seen it.  Sometimes a fresh viewing will fix this.  "The Seventh" from Enterprise is an example of an episode that quickly redeems itself upon watching it again.  I somehow doubt that "High Ground" is in that company.  There are just too many episodes that handle the same material, for whatever reason.

You might think it gets better once Picard joins Crusher as a hostage, and yet the series so frequently dodged the obvious issue of their past (and sometimes future) relationship that it's no surprise that "High Ground" ignores it (or perhaps explains why it never happened, which may be a reason to give it another shot after all).  A lot of the episode ends up defaulting to the typical series mode of negotiating and, well, taking the high ground, removing the crucial element Crusher herself can't provide.

franchise * series * essential * character

Memory Alpha summary.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Next Generation 3x11 "The Hunted"


Like a lot of Next Generation episodes, Picard and his crew get to demonstrate their superiority over the alien culture of the week, only this time it's a story about war veterans and their inability to integrate back into society.

It's certainly a worthy and continually relevant story, but "The Hunted" is told in the wrong context for it to really matter, the wrong series and in the wrong way.  It's hard to truly care about the guy who's fighting for his rights when we don't know or care about his culture (it's James Cromwell in his first Star Trek appearance representing that culture, by the way), just more random aliens, which I know plenty of fans are perfectly fine with but others would prefer more continuity (which is what later series did on a regular basis).

Yet shockingly, "The Hunted" is still a pretty singular event in franchise lore.  Deep Space Nine told a lot of stories about war, but the Dominion War ended at the end of the series, so there was never a chance to tell the DS9 version of this one.  There were plenty of Bajoran episodes about the effects of the Occupation and holdouts from current political regimes, but nothing quite like this.  Voyager didn't do it, either, or Enterprise.  It's just so surprising.  If I had been in charge of any of these series, it would have been natural to revisit this episode, even if it was a MACO in the fourth season (which never happened) of Enterprise, following the Xindi conflict.

It's a missed opportunity.  "The Hunted" is a placeholder, a competent one, but not a tremendously memorable one.  One of the things that might've redeemed it would have been better casting for the soldier, but even there it's pretty generic, and by budget uninspiring in wardrobe, which was always a problem.

franchise * series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
Colm Meaney
James Cromwell

Memory Alpha summary.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Next Generation 3x10 "The Defector"


This is the best Romulan episode of The Next Generation.  Where the earlier third season effort "The Enemy" seemed to go out of its way to avoid real comparisons to the classic original series episode "Balance of Terror," "The Defector" tells its own story, which is very much of a common Next Generation theme, and emerges as a new classic.

There are many episodes that successfully mine some of the same territory, whether "Chain of Command, Part II" from Next Generation or "Duet" and "Defiant" from Deep Space Nine, but none diminish the impact of "The Defector."  The title character, naturally, is a Romulan, who stumbles onto some plans and rushes to Starfleet in order to prevent a costly war.  At first he pretends to be a minor figure, believing that he'll have a better chance at being believed, but the truth is eventually revealed, his bad reputation known, and his credibility once again tossed around by Picard and his crew.  The whole episode is about these characters mulling over the situation, an even more pure version of the stalemate from "Balance of Terror," this time set entirely aboard the Enterprise.  There's no place to hide.  This is Next Generation diplomacy at its finest.

James Sloyan makes the first of many Star Trek guest appearances as the Romulan in question, which is just one of many further elements to relish about the episode.  There's also one of the series' classic teasers to kick things off, Data performing Shakespeare's Henry V on the Holodeck (with Patrick Stewart nearly unrecognizable in support, allowing him to flex his considerable acting muscles), and a return from Andreas Katsulas's character from "The Enemy" (thereby completing the redemption of that episode).

When you think of the dramatic rise in quality of the series in its third season, "The Defector" is at least as responsible as any other episode that may spring to mind, and yet I think it can be easy to overlook. It's a Romulan episode, and Romulans aren't new in Star Trek, certainly by this point in the franchise.  Sometimes it can be easy to assume that you need fresh aliens to remain relevant, but "The Defector" is also a reminder that established continuity can provide for relevant and engaging material, which is a concept DS9 ran with for seven seasons.  Could this story have been told with aliens we'd never seen before?  Sure, but it probably wouldn't have been as memorable.

franchise series * essential * character

Notable guest-stars:
James Sloyan
Andreas Katsulas

Memory Alpha summary.

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