Friday, May 27, 2016

The Next Generation 6x10 "Chain of Command, Part 1"

rating: ****

the story: Tensions rise between the Federation and the Cardassian Empire, leading to a covert assignment for Picard and a new captain for the Enterprise.

similar to: "The Search" (Deep Space Nine)

my thoughts: Talk about ending the first half of the season with a bang...It's almost as if the sixth season didn't really matter to the producers until "Chain of Command," which features the kind of slam-bang impactful storytelling that typified the series at its very best, the Cardassian version of the grand Klingon saga that shaped so many of the best moments from Next Generation

This first half is best known for the introduction of Captain Jellico, whereas the second half, which I will discuss separately, for the torture of Captain Picard.  These are equally significant developments in the story, and for the series.

Adjusting to a different style of command is as difficult for Riker as was the presence of Shelby in "The Best of Both Worlds, Part 1."  Jellico makes the early, stiff Picard seem like a wimp.  He immediately sets about one of the most-needed revisions of the series: putting Troi in a regulation Starfleet uniform.  Fans tend to overlook, when criticizing the form-fitting outfits of Seven and T'Pol in Voyager and Enterprise, respectively, that Troi's cleavage was easily the most provocative element of the franchise (outside of all the skimpy clothes guest characters tended to wear on alien worlds).  It also didn't serve much of a narrative purpose except to single her out as a different kind of officer.  yet she was, first and foremost, a Starfleet officer, like anyone else, so it was high time she looked the part, too.  It was all part of the maturing of Troi's presence in the series, which seemed like a project for the whole season (see also: "Face of the Enemy").

Jellico sticks out more than Shelby because he rankles not just Riker, but the whole crew.  He proves how warm a presence Picard has become over the years, and what a difference it makes when someone else is in charge.  It's also the old Star Trek trick of finding interpersonal conflict when, technically, this is the bright happy future where we all get along, which dates back to the original series.  Besides Jellico, there's also the debut of the quintessential "bad admiral" Nechayev, who would make a few more appearances in the franchise.

So "Chain of Command, Part 1" is a status marker for the whole series, right when the franchise was about to expand to include another (Deep Space Nine).  And a darn good one.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

notable guest-stars:
David Warner (Gul Madred)
Natalia Nogulich (Admiral Nechayev)
Ronny Cox (Jellico)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Next Generation 6x9 "The Quality of Life"

rating: **

the story: Data comes to the defense of mining equipment that has gained sentience.

similar to: "Home Soil," "Evolution," "Emergence" (Next Generation)

my thoughts: Like Voyager's obsession with holographic life, Next Generation had a fixation on artificial life.  Voyager's was because of the Emergency Medical Hologram.  Next Generation's was because of Data.  Both times, it only figured. 

"Quality of Life" still seems unnecessarily redundant, though in revisiting familiar territory, it forces the two streams, episodes that didn't necessarily revolve around Data (see the list above) and those that did ("The Measure of a Man," "The Offspring"), to come together, as he puts himself at risk to be the mining equipment's advocate, and asks Picard to understand based on that history.

There's really not much to say about it otherwise.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Next Generation 6x8 "A Fistful of Datas"

rating: ****

the story: A computer malfunction leaves Worf, Troi, and Alexander dealing with, well, a fistful of Datas.

similar to: "A Piece of the Action" (original series), "Bride of Chaotica!" (Voyager)

my thoughts: Finally!  Worf and Alexander spend quality time together, manage not to fight at all, and it's not only an enjoyable experience, but it's a Star Trek classic, in the tradition of the screwball "A Piece of the Action" (the planet of gangsters!) and "Bride of Chaotica!" (the Paris/Kim production gone horribly awry).  Thanks in large part to a healthy dose of Brent Spiner playing, in the end, every character on the holodeck except the Klingons and Durango, I mean Troi.

Putting Brent Spiner aside for a moment, "Fistful" is a wonderful opportunity for Marina Sirtis to stretch as well.  Her turn as the mysterious gunslinger, who sidles into Alexander's program well after he and Worf have, completely in-character, is her best turn outside of the later "Face of the Enemy" and First Contact, a welcome sign that she's a far better actor than most of her material lets her be (seriously, Troi has some of the worst material in the whole franchise, her and Crusher; this was not the series to argue female empowerment in the franchise).  It's the kind of turn that comes out of nowhere, except Troi's proximity to Worf's family, which by the end of the series reaches its climax (and then vanishes).  It's one of the most enjoyable performances of the series.

But there's also Spiner to consider.  Like the later "Masks," having him perform multiple guises is a recipe for instant gold.  His later, limited film work in character roles (chiefly, Independence Day and Out to Sea) stems directly from these episodes.

Usually, when the franchise dips into different genres, the results justify it (see also: "Heroes and Demons" from Voyager and "Our Man Bashir" from Deep Space Nine).  "Fistful" is one of the more straightforward of these.  Forget the technobabble nonsense that makes it possible.  The rest of the episode makes that pretty easy, especially when Data begins exhibiting his Wild West reflexes in his ship-board duties.  Sit back and enjoy.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

notable guest-stars:
Brian Bonsall (Alexander)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Next Generation 6x7 "Rascals"

rating: *

the story: Picard, Guinan, Ro, and Keiko are de-aged.

similar to: "One Little Ship" (Deep Space Nine), "The Counter-Clock Incident" (The Animated Series), "Before and After" (Voyager), "Too Short a Season" (Next Generation)

my thoughts: This is one of those episodes I have a real conflict with.  On the one hand, it's the rare episode that reverses one of the franchise's favorite tropes (characters aging).  On the other, it's akin to episodes like "Genesis" (Next Generation; characters devolving), "Threshold" (characters evolving), and "One Little Ship" (characters shrinking).  On the other hand, it's actually got its own tradition ("Counter-Clock Incident" from The Animated Series, "Before and After" from Voyager, and "Too Short a Season" from Next Generation itself).

But "Rascals" remains pretty unique, in that it literally features young actors taking the place of established ones.  To me, it's as tough a concept as "Threshold" has always been ("Threshold" is routinely listed as one of the worst episodes in the whole franchise).  I can easily stomach "Threshold."  "Threshold" is, ultimately, less of a gimmick episode and more of a concept episode (what happens when you pass Warp 10?).  "Rascals" has to live and die, ultimately, on its own merits.

The young actors as a whole are pretty terrible.  This was the last era in which casting directors could get away with this sort of thing.  By the end of the millennium (Haley Joel Osment in The Sixth Sense), they'd starting looking for real talent.  The actor playing the young Picard is particularly egregious. 

What makes this worse is that it's such a pivotal character episode.  It's the last regular appearances of Ro and both O'Briens in the series, and one of Guinan's last (before two appearances in the movies, Generations and Nemesis).  It's insane that this moment is all but ruined by having child actors perform the roles for the majority of the episode.

And yet, and yet...It's good for Ro's character, and good for Keiko's.  It positions the O'Briens for how they would interact throughout Deep Space Nine, and is the first time we see Ro as meaning anything as an individual since, basically, "Ensign Ro." 

And we get that nice little scene where the young Picard pretends to be Riker's son.

So as you can see, I have a conflicted relationship with "Rascals."  I group it most with "One Little Ship" because it's an absurd gimmick of an episode that really shouldn't work, and yet it kind of does.  The worst, in the end, that can be said about it is that Alexander, in a whole episode filled with other kids, is once again reduced to being relatively pointless in an episode where he should have been one of the most important characters.  Anyway...Let's just move on.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
Colm Meaney (O'Brien)
Rosalind Chao (Keiko)
Whoopi Goldberg (Guinan)
Michelle Forbes (Ro)
Brian Bonsall (Alexander)
Hana Hatae (Molly)

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Next Generation 6x6 "True Q"

rating: ***

the story: Q has a dilemma when he's forced to decide the fate of a girl whose parents quit the Continuum.

similar to: "Death Wish" (Voyager)

my thoughts: "True Q" has long been considered one of the weaker Q episodes, since it doesn't really focus on Q himself, but on a human who turns out to be a Q.  The thing is, in hindsight it looks like a prelude to "Death Wish," one of the few Voyager episodes fans generally get behind, the one where a Q not only wants to quit, but commit suicide (thus being that rare thing: a Q episode that's also a social message episode).  And the other thing: "True Q" is all about two other Q who decided to quit the Continuum.

We'd already seen Q himself suffer from the consequences of his actions ("Deja Q"), kicked around by the Continuum and exiled, so to see it happen not once but twice more creates a chain, a bona fide arc, beyond the trial narrative presented in Next Generation's first and last episodes.  "True Q" becomes an important part of Q lore in that regard.  So you can forget, for the moment, that it's not nearly as good as the other sixth season Q episode ("Tapestry"), or entertaining like the third Q episode that TV season (Deep Space Nine's "Q-Less").  At its heart, it's another sappy Riker romance.  (Don't get me wrong.  I fully appreciate Riker's addition to the Kirk legacy.  But it never worked as well on Riker, that ladies man reputation.  It always seemed forced.  Well, except maybe in Deep Space Nine's "Defiant."  But that was, technically, his transporter duplicate.)

It also serves as a nifty follow-up to yet another Q episode, "Hide and Q" from the first season, the first time we see a human get the powers of a Q.  It's also, more than "Hide and Q," the Q variant of one of the franchise's very first episodes, "Where No Man Has Gone Before" (original series), where Gary Mitchell gains god-like powers.

Bottom line, "True Q" is not the waste-of-a-Q-episode its reputation suggests.  It's actually pretty significant, and not a bad episode, either.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
John de Lancie (Q)
Olivia d'Abo

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Next Generation 6x5 "Schisms"

rating: *

the story: The crew becomes aware that they're being experimented on.

similar to: "Waking Moments" (Voyager)

my thoughts: The one bit of cleverness "Schisms" exhibits is when the crew pools their thoughts in a holodeck recreation (see also: "Identity Crisis").  Otherwise it's a standard franchise mystery involving aliens up to no good, and the crew struggling to catch up with the funny business.

It's a pretty ho-hum experience otherwise, generic storytelling that kind of fills episodic space without really accomplishing much other than your basic thriller material, as Riker volunteers to put himself in harm's way in order to flush out the bad guys and bring things to an end.

I'm always hoping these purely episodic stories will at least have interesting character work, because the best of them do ("Conundrum," say), or something so cool that it's irresistible ("Cause and Effect").  "Schism" lacks all of that.  It's a space-filler.  Perhaps it's telling that the franchise was about to expand into a third live action series (Deep Space Nine), and so maybe fewer people were paying attention to quality control than there should have been, especially this early in the season.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

Thursday, May 19, 2016

New Series VII Teaser Trailer released

CBS has released a new teaser trailer for the next Star Trek TV series.  You can read more about and view it here.

While it's too early to have any footage, much less a name (assuming it will be something other than, simply, Star Trek), the teaser is still a good reminder that this thing is coming up in a little over half a year, which is exciting.  The logo, as presented, is a dynamic new rendering of the franchise title, which might give a clue as to what we can expect.  We're being promised a lot of new things, but as rumored, we will still find familiar things.  I'd venture to guess we see the ruins of Praxis, the Klingon mining world featured in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which would fit in the thinking that the series will take place somewhere in the gap between the original series and The Next Generation.

We'll see!

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Next Generation 6x4 "Relics"

rating: ****

the story: Scotty is retrieved from a transporter, and meets the next generation.

similar to: "Sarek," "Unification" (Next Generation),"Blood Oath" (Deep Space Nine), Star Trek Generations, "Flashback" (Voyager)

my thoughts: Because of the old age makeup they put him in, you wouldn't really know that DeForest Kelley (McCoy) appeared in Next Generation's premiere, "Encounter at Farpoint."  At any rate, it's a far, far less famous appearance than Scotty's in "Relics."  I mean, outside of Sarek and Spock's appearances, Scotty popping in out of nowhere ranks as one of the most charming memories from the franchise, likely because his appearance was keenly shaped around its nostalgic appeal whereas his Vulcan predecessors (and McCoy) were presented as contemporaries.

Instead, Scotty is literally ripped out of time and, like Rip Van Winkle, finds himself in totally unfamiliar surroundings.  His holodeck visit is the first time the bridge of the original Enterprise is seen since, well, the original series.  The whole thing is like a preview of Star Trek Generations (including a crack about where the upstarts were when the originals were out saving the galaxy), in which, you may remember, Scotty also appears (ironically, like Kirk, that trip aboard the "bloody" Enterprise-B is probably one of his last experiences in his own time).

Later crossover episodes couldn't really duplicate the magic.  The original Klingon actors in Deep Space Nine's "Blood Oath" probably comes closest, but that's for the more hardcore fans (there really are levels of Star Trek geekhood), while Sulu's in Voyager's "Flashback" specifically revisits a familiar experience (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country).  When a Next Generation character appears in another series (which actually happened pretty frequently), it was not really considered too special (famously, fans considered this phenomenon as ruining Enterprise's final episode, "These Are the Voyages..."), although Voyager's Doctor got in a few good ones (Star Trek: First Contact and Deep Space Nine's "Doctor Bashir, I Presume?").

Getting back to "Relics" itself, more than all those other examples, it's actually kind of a commentary on the aging nature of the original series and its cast, arguably more so than what was found in the films (Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, both of which were a decade old by the time this episode aired).  The fact that it aired a year after Undiscovered Country was also a sign that the old days really were gone (but only a few years before they turned up one last time in Generations).

And to link "Relics" with the new cinematic era, it's exactly like Old Spock showing up in 2009's Star Trek.  That's all the context you need. 

Apparently the science of it was also pretty cutting edge; the Dyson Sphere that fascinates both Scotty and Geordi (this is an excellent episode for him, too, finally putting to bed the challenges of presenting a second, and unique, genius chief engineer) could very well have carried an episode on its own.

It's that one scene, however, when Scotty visits the holodeck, and revisits the bridge of his old ship, with Picard joining him, that defines "Relics" as a classic.  It's one of those moments that speaks for itself.  And finally, finally, Scotty has his worthy showcase.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)

notable guest-stars:
James Doohan (Scotty)

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Next Generation 6x3 "Man of the People"

rating: *

the story: Troi engages in a romance that leaves her aged prematurely.

similar to: "The Price," "Sub Rosa" (Next Generation)

my thoughts: Above, I've linked "Man of the People" to a couple of other bad romances the unlucky women of Next Generation suffered ("Sub Rosa" is my pick for one of the worst episodes ever, by the way), and while "People" has that going for it, it's really just a poor excuse for dipping into the franchise trope of having someone age prematurely (see as a classic example, the original series' "Deadly Years").  Literally every series has at least one character parade around in old age makeup (that more often than not looks terrible).

But since I don't want to be totally unfair to this unique blend of bad tropes (which, to be fair, have had their good examples, even in the more gimmicky ones, like Bashir's aging in Deep Space Nine's "Distant Voices," while there are good examples of bad old age makeup appearing in very good episodes, like "The Inner Light," from Next Generation, or "The Visitor," also from Deep Space Nine, as well as the thematically similar "Timeless" and "Twilight," from Voyager and Enterprise, respectively).  And it's not as if Troi (or Crusher) was thoroughly incapable of having a good romantic encounter.  But "People" is a hackneyed one.

Unless you feel like being generous.  So I'm giving you this one, a small bone, to chew on, in what is otherwise an overly forgettable (and regrettable) third episode (!) from the sixth season.  Honestly, I think some of the later episodes they were so eager to get to, in the production offices, that they just let this one slip past them...

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
Patti Yasutake (Ogawa)

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Next Generation 6x2 "Realm of Fear"

rating: ***

the story: Barclay finds unusual passengers in his transporter beam.

similar to: "Vanishing Point" (Enterprise)

my thoughts: Star Trek characters having a transporter phobia is a franchise trope all to itself (see: McCoy, Pulaski, the characters of Enterprise).  The fact that Reginald Barclay is a part of that list should surprise no one.  This guy was created to be the most neurotic character ever, and "Realm of Fear" is the second best episode to depict him in this mode (amazingly, he would eventually be allowed a little more nuance in Voyager).

Aside from his introduction and social anxiety in "Hollow Pursuits," Barclay actually walks away from his problems fairly well, and it's "Realm of Fear" that helps him along.  The whole episode is kind of like a guilty response to "Pursuits," which presented a one-dimensional portrait, whereas "Realm" acknowledges that sometimes there really are good reasons (other than, you know, psychological ones that really aren't appropriate fodder for jokes, thank you very much Big Bang Theory, which I kid because I love) for a person's behavior, like evil monsters hiding in the transporter beam.  Which in turn are revealed to be lost people trapped in the matter stream. 

All of it is a much bigger thought process than mere technobabble normally allows Star Trek, giving us insight into the workings of the famous Star Trek transporter (although it's kind of frightening to think that a piece of functional technology is such a cause for concern for all these characters, like if TV shows set during our contemporary times had a lot of characters fixated on the horrors of mobile phone usage), and giving Barclay his due ("The Nth Degree" doesn't really count) in his last major appearance of the series. 

Also, it kind of sets up "Relics" a few episodes later, if you think about it...

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
Dwight Schultz (Barclay)
Colm Meaney (O'Brien)
Patti Yasutake (Ogawa)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

So, is the new Star Trek TV show Series VI or Series VII?

As anticipation builds for next year's new Star Trek TV series, there's already something to be settled about its place in franchise lore.  Now, I've been calling it Series VII, because I consider it the seventh TV series.  This challenges conventional wisdom (which is not a thing to be settled on the Internet, I admit), because everyone who was around when the last new Star Trek show was being prepped knew Enterprise, originally, as Series V.  That's certainly how I talked about it.

So what changed?  I discovered The Animated Series.  The short-lived '70s broadcast is generally considered noncanonical, since it was never referenced directly by any subsequent production.  It was probably easy to dismiss because it was eventually superseded, as sequel material, by Star Trek: The Motion Picture and later movies and live action TV shows, and became somewhat lost to history, unlike the classic episodes of the original series, which remain roundly lauded by longtime fans.  Being unique in format to this day, The Animated Series remains a thorny aberration in franchise lore, despite the fact that episodes like "Yesteryear" continue to be cited (such as in 2009's Star Trek reboot movie) indirectly.

When I had the chance to watch the show for myself, following its debut on DVD, I found a series that soundly continued the tradition of its live action predecessor, deviating only in terms of what its formatting allowed and the fact that it had half-hour rather than hour-long episodes, with necessarily constricted plotting that goes along with such time restrictions.

So I began considering The Animated Series as part of the family, and that means there have, to date, been six Star Trek TV shows, and necessarily, that means the next one will be Series VII, just until its official name is unveiled.

Which, to me, means that anyone waiting impatiently for the next series could very easily spend their time discovering The Animated Series, too.  It'll be worth your time.  It's filled with the same kind of mix in quality as every other Star Trek TV show.  I've got a handy guide to them here, if you'd care to have a look...
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