Friday, June 12, 2015

The Next Generation 2x15 "Pen Pals"

rating: *

Memory Alpha summary

via CBS
This is a better image for the episode
than Candy Apple Girl.  Just trust me.
The image I've chosen, and you can see for yourself how I've chosen to caption it, is actually two-fold in its significance.  Picard riding a horse.  Hey, so remember in Star Trek Generations how Picard rides a horse?  You can point to this episode as the origin of that.  So much has been made of William Shatner's interest in horses, but Generations depicted Picard and Kirk on horses not as a concession to Shatner but because it has every relevance for Picard.  It's a whole movie that tries to depict Picard as dynamically as possible.  And seeing Picard on a horse is perhaps the second time the second season (his brilliant defense of Data in "The Measure of a Man" being the first) finally nailed him.  The first season had been so anxious concerning him (see just how anxious as he drops random French enthusiasm into his duties early early on...), and Riker had a brilliant head-start in the second.  I mean, things were bound to turn around, right?  (Yes, a bit of a pun, there.)

But this is not a Picard episode.  It's a Data episode.  The one featuring the Candy Apple Girl, otherwise perhaps identified as the worst make-up job of the franchise since Next Generation's own "Too Short a Season," otherwise known as the little girl who joins Data in the eponymous relationship.

No photographic evidence here!

But what about the rest of the episode?  Right, there's another character trying to horn in on the action.  This time it's Wesley Crusher, in another of those stories that try to develop his...non-career.  And yes, I get that there's some logic to his ship duties, but if you're not especially kind about it this is easily the most ridiculous thing about the whole series.  And I like Wesley!  Anyway, that's kind of what happens.  He trains for greater responsibility.  Even though technically he has no responsibility.  As far as Starfleet's concerned, anyway...I'm not sure the series ever really nailed that aspect of the character.  Early on his status as boy genius was botched horribly, and then there was a whole episode explaining how he didn't rate as a boy far as Starfleet's concerned, anyway...So to persist with this was perhaps the leading problematic element of the series (and why quite pointedly he's not seen in this light past the second season).

What else?  What about Data???

Right.  His story is tied up in a Prime Directive dilemma.  This should make for excellent drama.  It doesn't.  Instead it offers an uncharacteristic story concerning a little girl he forms a relationship with.  The series somewhat surprisingly liked this story type enough to repeat it twice, another time with Data ("Hero Worship") and one with Worf ("The Bonding").  Every single time it's awkward, but it's most awkward in "Pen Pals."

All of which is to say that when people say the series did not officially become good until the third season, it's episodes like "Pen Pals" that should be understood as standing in the way of a second season that otherwise makes great strides toward that future...

four quarter analysis
franchise * series * essential * character

notable guest-stars:
Diana Muldaur
Colm Meaney
Nikki Cox

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