Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Next Generation 4x9 "Final Mission"

rating: **

the story: Picard accompanies Wesley Crusher on his way to Starfleet Academy but they end up marooned on a desert planet after a crash-landing.

similar to: "Skin of Evil" (Next Generation), "The Gift" (Voyager)

my thoughts: So few main characters leave any of the series in franchise history with any kind of send-off, it's hard not to think of "Final Mission" as Wesley's farewell as a regular.  The problem is that after his subsequent visits in later episodes, "Mission" loses whatever luster it might have had in that regard, and must rely on its own meager merits.

Unlike "Skin of Evil" (the sudden death of Tasha Yar) or "The Gift" (where Kes departs), the event of Wesley's departure is at once so formal and ultimately anticlimactic it's irrelevant to the episode, meaning the rest of the story has to stand on its own, which means whether or not Wesley himself has grown, or is presented well here, is what counts.  And while Wesley has grown since the beginning of the series, he's actually lost what made him special.  By this point he's become just another presence in the series, about as significant as anyone else who exists in the background, really.  His interactions with Picard are minimal (Picard becomes incapacitated for much of the episode), and so even that is robbed of him for this occasion.

Later Wesley appearances find him in a new dynamic, fending for himself, wrestling with new moral dilemmas and new modes of responsibility.  This is an episode of mere survival, in which nothing is more important than the most basic heroism and generic antagonists (the selfish pilot who sucks most of the life out of the proceedings thanks to a bad casting job or perhaps uninspired directing; the actor portraying him finds a much better role in Deep Space Nine's "Honor Among Thieves").

The problem here is that the sentiment behind scenes is left almost entirely absent in the episode itself.  It was a big deal.  But the episode fails to convey that, unfortunately.  Still, it remains unique in franchise history.  Wesley remains the only series regular (except his mom Dr. Crusher, who left after the first season, and returned in the third, as a regular both times) to leave with the promise, and delivery, of future appearances. 

You can enjoy it, to a limited extent, for what it is, but there was such potential to be something more.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
Nick Tate

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Next Generation 4x8 "Future Imperfect"

rating: **

the story: Riker wakes up sixteen years in the future, but discovers all may not be as it seems.

similar to: "The Corbomite Maneuver" (Original Series), "All Good Things..." (Next Generation), "Child's Play" (Voyager)

my thoughts: This is a fun episode that plays with the viewer's knowledge of the series, bringing back characters like Minuet ("11001001") and the Romulan Tomalak while presenting a possible future.  It's most fun as a Riker episode, of course, and possibly the most fun Riker episode of the series (for such a fun character in general, it's odd to admit that so few of his episodes were fun).

By the time you realize what's really going on, it's the end of the episode, and it's a kid who's been abandoned by his parents and forced to make up his own reality.  There are countless episodes like that throughout franchise history.  It's one of the better examples, to be sure, because at least most of it is spent with everyone being able to enjoy the experience, because the alternative can be grim on all scores, or sometimes just for the characters (in a very roundabout way, Icheb's experiences in "Child's Play," where we discover how a different set of parents basically made their own child's life a living hell to escape a bad situation...). 

Alternate futures and/or timelines have an equal mixed bag in franchise history.  "Future Imperfect" has better footing for happiness than most of those, too, except maybe Worf's odd adventures in "Parallels," where he explores dozens of different versions of how things might have turned out differently for himself and the crew.

The somewhat more hackneyed part of it is the Romulan subplot.  The series pressed the Romulans so much and yet only occasionally got something good out of them.  Their presence here is more of a red herring than anything, which is a good thing. 

In the end, relish the good in this "Imperfect" episode, and never mind the rest.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
Andreas Katsulas (Tomalak)
Carolyn McCormick (Minuet)
Patti Yasutake (Nurse Ogawa)

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Trek Beyond trailer has the trailer for the new movie, releasing next summer (July 22nd).  You can view it here.
The music accompanying it comes from 2009's Star Trek, the debut of the so-called Abramsverse.  A lot of older fans don't seem to like the new movies, calling them action-heavy would-be Treks that have lost the feel of the franchise.  The Star Trek I know and love has always featured character-heavy plots, which is the best way to describe the new movies.  My favorite Trek is Deep Space Nine, and that's about as character-heavy as you can get.  But from the beginning, the franchise was known for its characters almost beyond (heh) anything else.  There's a reason why there was such resistance to the debut of The Next Generation with its entirely new crew, because fans didn't want to accept Star Trek without Kirk and Spock, who dominated six feature films well past the end of their TV adventures.
To say that action was never a part of the Trek formula is to forget the many fight scenes in the original series.  I remember them.  They were badly, badly choreographed.  Anyone should be able to admit that.  From "Balance of Terror" onward, space battles have been a part of Trek lore, well before the advent of the Star Wars era. 
Trek fans tend to be incredibly slow at embracing something new, which is to say resistant to change.  (Or perhaps they're just mad that these are by far the most successful films in franchise history.)  And they can't let go of their cherished memories.  For years, well into the runs of Next Generation and Deep Space Nine, they were insisting that the best episodes in franchise history were almost exclusive to the original series.  They still insist the best movie is the second one, The Wrath of Khan, even though there have been ten more released since then.  Any of those that even slightly evoke (it's called an homage, folks) Khan are called shameless ripoffs.  These fans, who are supposed to be the smartest fans in our whole culture, routinely act like the dumbed.
So I'll sit back and enjoy the new trailer, thank you very much, and highly anticipate the new movie.  I've been watching Star Trek for most of my life.  My first exposure was the original series.  But I've been enjoying the rest of it, too.  I'd be very happy for that trend to continue.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Newsweek's Favorite Episodes

Newsweek has a 50th anniversary special available.  Included are its picks for the best episodes from each series.  And here they are, with a few thoughts:

The Original Series
  • "The Doomsday Machine"
  • "Space Seed"
  • "Mirror, Mirror"
  • "The Trouble With Tribbles"
  • "The Enterprise Incident"
  • "Journey to Babel"
  • "Balance of Terror"
  • "Arena"
  • "Amok Time"
  • "The City on the Edge of Forever"
These are all standard picks for favorites from the originals, so I don't have much to say here.


The Next Generation
  • "The Best of Both Worlds, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Chain of Command, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "The Most Toys"
  • "The Inner Light"
  • "Yesterday's Enterprise"
  • "Darmok"
  • "Remember Me"
  • "All Good Things..., Parts 1 & 2"
  • "The Defector"
  • "Tapestry"
Like the originals, some of these are standards, but there are a few surprises, like "The Most Toys," which has in the past been among my own favorites, and "Remember Me" (which has the dubious but well-earned distinction of being the best Dr. Crusher episode).  "The Defector" might be considered another surprise, but it's long been well-received by fans.


Deep Space Nine
  • "In the Pale Moonlight"
  • "Duet"
  • "Our Man Bashir"
  • "Once More Unto the Breach"
  • "Inquisition"
  • "In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light"
  • "Call to Arms"
  • "Far Beyond the Stars"
  • "The Visitor"
  • "Trials and Tribble-ations"
Newsweek's biggest surprise is naming "In the Pale Moonlight" as the best episode of the entire franchise.  Quite a leap!  There's long been a push to acknowledge, at the very least, the cult-within-the-cult of fans who favor this series over the rest of Star Trek, and critics who have tended to go along with this view.  But this puts the phenomenon to new levels.  There are more whimsical picks for the series otherwise, on the whole, sometimes coming off as somewhat random: "In Purgatory's Shadow"/"By Inferno's Light" is an important two-part episode, but I'm not sure if it's really a good pick.  But "Our Man Bashir" and "Inquisition" are certainly interesting selections.  "Duet," "Far Beyond the Stars," "The Visitor," and "Trials and Tribble-ations," meanwhile, are routinely considered highlights, for those uninitiated.  "Call to Arms" ushers in the long-running Dominion War arc.  For what it's worth, if "Pale Moonlight" weren't the best episode of the franchise, it would probably be "The Visitor."  So Newsweek definitely picked the right series for that distinction.


  • "Year of Hell, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Equinox, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Deadlock"
  • "Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy"
  • "Endgame, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Hope and Fear"
  • "Worst Case Scenario"
  • "Living Witness"
  • "Scorpion, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Blink of an Eye"
The picks are perhaps most interesting for this series.  I think few fans would quibble with "Year of Hell" (the closest Star Trek ever came to the Battlestar Galactica reboot, in the series most relevant to such a comparison).  "Equinox" bares the distinction of being roundly despised by fans, at least the last time I checked, though I always liked it.  "Deadlock" is pretty random, though I'll get back to why it's still probably a good pick later.  "Tinker Tenor" (read a blogger buddy's recent thoughts on this one here) is certainly memorable, but my favorite Doctor episode will always be "Latent Image."  "Author, Author" would also be acceptable.  Newsweek calls "Endgame" the most rewarding finale of a Star Trek after "All Good Things..." (being grossly unfair to Deep Space Nine's "What You Leave Behind," mind you).  "Hope and Fear" is an excellent choice, and so are "Worst Case Scenario," "Living Witness," and "Blink of an Eye."  Finally, the Borg epic "Scorpion" might be starting to gain levels of respect usually reserved for other Borg appearances ("The Best of Both Worlds," anyone?).


  • "In a Mirror Darkly, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "Impulse"
  • "Similitude"
  • "Cogenitor"
  • "Carbon Creek"
  • "Dear Doctor"
  • "Broken Bow, Parts 1 & 2"
  • "The Andorian Incident"
  • "Zero Hour"
  • "The Expanse"
The Mirror Universe (as debuted in "Mirror, Mirror") was clearly Newsweek's favorite return engagement from the series' fourth season tribute episodes ("In a Mirror Darkly").  The magazine suggests that fans are finally starting to appreciate the series in general.  "Cogenitor" is the most-often praised episode from the run, and so it's not surprising to find it here.  It's great to see "Similitude" and "Dear Doctor" in the mix.  I also like that "Carbon Creek" is there.  Aside from featuring a look at Vulcans in 1950s America, it also features a unique moment for the series: the main characters sitting down and telling each other stories (which continues in "First Flight," by the way).  "Broken Bow," by the way, is the premiere episode.  Newsweek touts it as the start of the franchise-wide Klingon feud.  "The Andorian Incident" and "The Expanse" are important series moment.  "Zero Hour" concludes the third season's Xindi arc.

All in all, the selections provide a broad spectrum of the fifty-year TV legacy in its many forms.  Reading through them, I was reminded of something pretty shocking for a long-time fan: how we watch it has evolved over the years.  As someone who has been thinking about why it became so unpopular a decade ago, this introduced a new idea as to why that happened.  Simply put, Star Trek has been many things, and while it evolved over the years in its storytelling, it never lost one of the defining aspects of its origins: an interest in classic sci-fi concepts.  The original series was certainly, in part, creator Gene Roddenberry's hopeful message for the future, but it was also a platform to explore the wildest ideas its many writers could imagine.  Over the years, fans began expecting different things.  By Deep Space Nine, the dawn of the modern era of serialized drama had begun, and anything that drastically deviated from it was soundly rejected.  Voyager and Enterprise struggled because they stood as challenges to this trend, and continued insisting that older sci-fi models were still viable, not just Star Trek's, but as readers had been experiencing it for a hundred years, dating back to Jules Verne and H.G. Wells.

Many of Newsweek's picks for standout episodes reflect this.  Fans sometimes think Star Trek is at its most pure when it presents moral allegories, but this has always been just one aspect in the greater storytelling landscape.  You'll note that only a few of the magazine's selections even reflect it (assuming you know your Trek).  There's a greater preponderance for episodes that reflect the strange new worlds edict in the famous mission statement, and then the continuity elements that helped enrich everything.  Really makes you think.  Next time you hear someone complain that the new movies aren't reflecting the franchise accurately, maybe you'll have a better retort...
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