Friday, June 24, 2016

Bryan Fuller sets the record straight on Series VII

In a recent interview (recapped here) Bryan Fuller denied most of the details that had apparently leaked above the forthcoming new Star Trek TV series, debunking the anthology rumor and that it's set between Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country and Star Trek: The Next Generation.

He also suggests there will be multiple crews involved, which is definitely good news.  I loved it when Star Trek: Enterprise brought in another ship (chiefly to fan the flames of the Trip/T'Pol relationship, but it was still groundbreaking) in its fourth season. 

I'm glad we're getting new information, even if it still seems like a trickle to some fans.  As I pointed out elsewhere, they haven't even announced casting decisions yet.  It's way, way too early to expect more than we've gotten.  I'm just glad we have people like Fuller interested in getting the record, as it is, straight...

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Next Generation 6x13 "Aquiel"

rating: **

the story: Geordi falls in love with a murder suspect.

similar to: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, "The Drumhead" (Next Generation), "Demon," "Course: Oblivion" (Voyager)

my thoughts: This latest hapless Geordi love story (the only other character as similarly hapless in franchise would be Voyager's Harry Kim, so of course he figures in the episode connections above) gets surprisingly complicated.  A lot of people will base their opinions of the episode on the performance of the actress playing the title character (which may not be for everyone, but it's not really that bad).

The first association you'll see listed is Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which I make because it shares a Klingon murder mystery with "Aquiel."  The second also features a Klingon, but that's not the reason I link Next Generation's own "The Drumhead" to "Aquiel," but rather because both feature a more complicated investigation than it at first seems (there are other such episodes, but it's just funny to me that the series was willing to piggyback on such a singular episode with one that didn't really have near the ambition, which is fine, all things considered; at this point the season had more than amped up the quality score that was lagging early on, so it was due for some lighter material).

The third and forth come from Voyager, and by the time you reach the end of "Aquiel" you should know very well why the biomimetic shenanigans of "Demon" and "Course: Oblivion" are relevant.  All of this combines, if you managed the rather lengthy parenthetical comments above, for a fairly decent episode.  For  Geordi romance it's fairly straightforward, sadly enough!  If you include, say, "The Game" with Wesley and Ashley Judd, you'll see that romances do tend to end rather abruptly in this series, where careers (*cough* Riker) are so important (so it's equally unsurprising that the older, commanding officer Picard has been a bachelor all his life). 

For all that, it's a good mystery.  The series was surprisingly good for those.  And the little dog, too!  I'll keep it at recommendations for franchise and series fans, just to be on the safe side, which translate to a two-star review, a middle-of-the-road-but-still-worth-watching affair.  Sounds exactly like all Geordi's dates...

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Next Generation 6x12 "Ship in a Bottle"

rating: ****

the story: The holographic Professor Moriarty is inadvertently reawakened, and plots to have his revenge and freedom, too.

similar to: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, "Latent Image," "Flesh & Blood, Parts I & II" (Voyager)

my thoughts: This unexpected follow-up to the second season episode "Elementary, Dear Data," in which Geordi and Dr. Pulaski inadvertently created the sentient Professor Moriarty hologram to compete with Data, is arguably one of the finest hidden gems of the franchise.  Where fans will be familiar with the name Khan and to a lesser extent Harry Mudd, the twice-appearing Moriarty, while on the surface seeming to be a less distinctive creation for having been based, at least originally, on the famous Sherlock Holmes villain, may in fact prove to be among the most sophisticated antagonists ever to appear in Star Trek.

After all, when one think of Next Generation, it's as the most sophisticated series in the franchise, right?  Fans typically think of the series' answer to Wrath of Khan as either Star Trek: First Contact or Star Trek Nemesis, and sometimes find it easy to dismiss one or the other for that very reason.  Yet, "Ship in a Bottle" is the Next Generation version of Khan.  It's just that simple.  Foe you thought you'd dealt with returns.  Where I've always found Khan's intellect lacking, the same can't be said of Moriarty's.  This was a character literally created to be brilliant, and so the writers are forced to produce something brilliant for him.

Which is to revisit, once again, the idea of artificial intelligence.  Putting aside Data, who was the usual recipient of such explorations in this series, it's worth noting that there's another Star Trek regular who spent a good deal of time getting examined in this way.  By far the most nuanced such occasion for Voyager's holographic Doctor was "Latent Image."  It's ironic to note that the Doctor eventually gained the very autonomy Moriarty craved, and that it still didn't mean a happy ending for him (all the way to "Author, Author," we find him struggling still). 

Also from Voyager is the two-part "Flesh and Blood," which similarly examined what actually happened to what seemed like a clever solution, from the earlier two-part "Killing Game," in which the crew gives the Hirogen holographic, rather than organic, prey, in hopes of reducing their bloodthirst.  While "Flesh and Blood" isn't the achievement of "Ship in a Bottle," it's a reminder that things don't always work out as smoothly as you'd think.

Even "Ship" ends ambiguously, when you think about it.  "Elementary, Dear Data" ended the Moriarty question with the proposal that the crew would further examine his plight, in much the way "Space Seed" in the original series saw Kirk leave Khan behind on a planet of his own.  Moriarty returns and reveals that he has experienced every excruciating moment of the interminable wait.  Did the crew purposely forget about him?  And what of the conclusion of "Ship," where they trick him into a simulation? 

One imagines that he eventually figures it out.  Would this have been something worth actually seeing?  But one equally must assume this, all things considered, reflectful Moriarty wouldn't repeat the mistakes of Khan before him.  Essentially, "Ship" concludes his story in the original mold of "Space Seed," with Moriarty in exile, but an exile he can be happy with.

This is what happens when Star Trek doesn't rush to judgment for the sake of making the good guy look good.  If the good guy is good, then it isn't necessary.  If the bad guy isn't bad, then once again, it isn't necessary.  "Ship in a Bottle" is exactly that, a ship in a bottle, the message of Next Generation, where a Klingon serves in Starfleet for the first time, in a nutshell.  That makes it a classic.  It's the franchise's most concise explanation of what constitutes existence, without making too fine a point on it. 

Philosophical, cerebral, intelligent: that's everything you want from this crew.

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

notable guest-stars:
Daniel Davis (Moriarty)
Dwight Schultz (Barclay)

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Next Generation 6x11 "Chain of Command, Part 2"

rating: ****

the story: Picard is tortured for information by a sadistic Cardassian.

similar to: "Balance of Terror" (original series), "The Die is Cast" (Deep Space Nine), "Kir'Shara" (Enterprise)

my thoughts: Well, ask any fan, and they'll tell you all about how this episode is a classic.  David Warner, a repeated guest presence in the franchise, is in his finest role as the Cardassian torturer Gul Madred, who matches wits with Picard in a way no other character could.  In its own way, "Chain of Command, Part 2" is Next Generation's version of the Kirk/Khan showdown from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

I'll put it another way: "There are four lights!"  Those are Picard's defiant final words to Madred, uttered in a hoarse voice, which he later retracts, actually, in a humbling conversation with Troi, admitting he was on the verge of breaking.  Like Data shooting at Kivas Fajo in "The Most Toys," it's the moment fans have to keep in mind when they struggle to reconcile the Picard of Star Trek: First Contact with the more composed Picard to be found virtually in every other adventure.  This is a man of deep passion and conviction, who under ordinary circumstances ("Sarek" is another example) is in scrupulous control of himself.  That's what this episode is all about, seeing how far that really goes.  It's the ultimate test of the character.  At times he's recklessly defiant (goading Madred about allowing his daughter to see him at work), and at others, almost mocking (jabbing Madred about the helpless little boy the Cardassian once was), but make no mistake, this is Picard stretched to capacity.  It's absolutely riveting, of course. 

The whole thing is a game of chess, including Captain Jellico's second go in command of the Enterprise, as Next Generation produces its ultimate Cardassian episode, paving the way for the brilliant Deep Space Nine material that would follow.  In a way, it's the "Balance of Terror" of the series, in the way the Romulans proved to be nuanced adversaries in the original series, Madred's torture inadvertently giving Picard, and the audience, a glimpse into Cardassian culture, which turns out to be more rich than we'd seen from any other Star Trek alien species.

It'd be wrong to assume this experience couldn't be duplicated, in some ways just as brilliantly, because Garak torturing Odo ("The Die is Cast," Deep Space Nine) and Shran torturing Soval ("Kir'Shara," Enterprise) are equally impactful moments in franchise lore, if less well-known.  It's just, when you give Patrick Stewart a chance to shine, it's hard to be as memorable.  Everyone expects Stewart to be brilliant, but he has so few moments where he really has material he can sink his teeth into.  If nothing else, "Chain of Command, Part 2" is one such moment.

I think that's easy to agree with.

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

notable guest-stars:
Ronny Cox (Jellico)
David Warner (Gul Madred)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Death of Anton Yelchin

The death of Anton Yelchin, who portrayed Chekov in Star Trek, Star Trek Into Darkness, and the forthcoming Star Trek Beyond, came as shocking news to fans, following a car accident on Sunday.  As part of the reboot generation, Yelchin embodied the boy genius Chekov with considerable charisma while maintaining a separate starring role career, in which he was featured in such films as Alpha Dog, Charlie Bartlett, Terminator: Salvation, and Fright Night.  Regardless of where the Star Trek film franchise goes from here, Yelchin will be missed considerably.  He was 27.
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