Archive for July, 2022

Trekaday 037: Half a Life, The Host, The Mind’s Eye, In Theory, Redemption

Posted on July 25th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S04E22 Half a Life (4.5 out of 5 stars). Troi opens the episode with a one-line personal log entry: “My mother is on-board.” She’s paired with a scientist from a reclusive race played by the marvellous David Ogden Stiers, who – surprisingly – seems very open to the maniacal advances of Lwaxana (because this-is-the-story-we-do-with-this-character). His project is to use the Enterprise’s photon torpedos to restart his world’s sun and of course during the test-run things don’t go according to plan. So far, so breezy, but this is actually going to be a meditation on assisted suicide, since in this society, inhabitants are expected to end their lives at the age of 60. I’m reminded of William Goldman’s horror on being told that the star of the film he was working on, Chevy Chase, wanted this version of The Invisible Man to be an exploration of loneliness. Goldman was happy to explore the loneliness of invisibility – just not with Chevy Chase. Likewise, I’m interested in a story about assisted suicide, I just don’t know if I want it to centre Lwaxana Troi. But Majel Barrett is so good that in the episode’s key scene, confessing her fears of her own mortality to her daughter, she is able to connect the character’s previous chaotic enthusiasm to a new desperation about being left behind. Star Trek in general has a pretty poor track record with love stories (Edith Keeler works, and then there’s… um… er…) and this isn’t Romeo and Juliet, but it is convincing, as relationships between guest characters in hour-long episodic television go. And, impressively, this is not another Federation-knows-best episode in which Star Fleet dismantles a centuries-old society in half an hour. It’s really all about Barrett and Stiers who play this beautifully. Also, look out for an early appearance by Michelle Forbes who will be back with a vengeance next year. Gosh, I’m tempted to give this one a five, but I think it just tops out at four-and-a-half.

TNG S04E23 The Host (2 out of 5 stars). Data is a champion gooseberry when Crusher wants to get it on with her new squeeze, whom she met before the episode began. So, we’re going to have another go at a love story are we? We’re also setting up future shows (though not intentionally at this stage) as Beverly’s beau is a Trill, but this incarnation of the species is more David Cronenberg body-horror than Terry Farrell’s lithe Dax and the details of the joining don’t remotely recall Sisko’s cheerful references to Jadzia as “old man”. Roddenberry told a room full of fans in the early days of TNG that it was about time he put a gay character on the Enterprise but by this time, he was pretty much an invalid and it was Berman’s show. For the full details of what happened next and why, see this excellent YouTube video. According to this story, Trills can’t use transporters which makes little sense on its own terms and of course is contradicted over and over again in future episodes of the franchise. Gates McFadden was heavily pregnant while filming these episodes which is why you never see her in long shot.

The crux of this episode of course is that Odan changes host mid-episode and the “parasite” (as it’s called here) ends up first in Will Riker and then finally in a female body, which is incapable of giving Beverly the horn. While it’s easy to argue that American prime time television in the 1990s wasn’t remotely capable of engaging with the kind of gender fluidity which we take for granted (or at least some of us do) that ignores the fact that it wasn’t necessary to bring the issue up at all, if the only way it could be grappled with is by reassuring middle America that there’s no room for same-sex relationships on their television screens. I’m all for episodes of TNG that are rip-roaring adventure stories and little more, and I’m all for episodes which engage with big social issues, but I feel it’s only fair to judge those latter episodes on how they deal with those issues as well as how they tell their stories, and this one is a disaster in terms of the message it seeks to deliver which is essentially “only ever judge a book by its cover.” The middle of the episode, with Riker as Odan, seems like a missed opportunity too. Make it Riker and Troi or Picard and Crusher then surely you’ve got something? But since Crusher and Riker have never even looked at each other before, this is without nuance or depth, especially as we never see anything of Riker’s reaction to his body being used in this way. Add to this McFadden’s limited ability to sell the love story in the first place and we have a major disappointment, at least as bad as the idiotic Devil’s Due or the cloth-eared Suddenly Human.

TNG S04E24 The Mind’s Eye (4.5 out of 5 stars). Geordi is on his way to The Eye of Orion Risa with a shuttlecraft computer which is happy to play parlour games with him but which takes its eye off the road and doesn’t notice the Romulan warbird decloaking dead ahead. With more than a touch of The Manchurian Candidate, Geordi is brainwashed and turned into an assassin while an android duplicate takes his place so he isn’t missed during his shore leave. The deception effortless fools Troi, whose abilities as usual are helpless in the face of a situation seemingly tailor-made for them. (Dr Crusher gives him a complete physical exam and doesn’t spot anything either.) Meanwhile, a Klingon emissary is on board the Enterprise, so it seems we still aren’t done with all that tedious business about Worf’s family dishonour. Of more interest is the Federation’s possible involvement in supporting a Klingon insurrection. “The Federation is not in the business of supplying arms to rebels,” reassures Picard, who obviously hasn’t watched TOS S02E19 lately.

It’s unusual to see two such strong plotlines running side-by-side. TNG doesn’t often do A and B plots and when it does, the B plot is usually there to complicate the A plot (by occupying the Enterprise which would otherwise be riding to the rescue, for example). Here we have both the Federation’s traditional enemies both involved in separate intrigues. The link is that the Romulans are the ones disrupting the alliance between the Klingons and the Federation. This puts Geordi in the curious position of trying to detect his own duplicity, and in a neat twist it is the seemingly-benign Klingon emissary who is actually Geordi’s handler, and part of the Romulan plot. This is satisfyingly complex, thrilling stuff, with some great camerawork and Levar Burton does great work. It’s just a shame that even after all this time, La Forge is such a thin character, barely on the level of Sulu. We only pay lip-service to the recovery needed from such a mental attack, but we do at least pay lip-service. And just whose voice was that emanating from the shadows on board the Romulan ship?

TNG S04E25 In Theory (2 out of 5 stars). While Geordi is (presumably) continuing to recover from his brainwashing, Data has a back-up friend-who-is-unlucky-in-love in the form of Michelle Scarabelli as Jenna D’Sora. Unlike Geordi, D’Sora wants to solve her problem by boning Data. He is fully functional, as we know. Data’s tour of the regular cast to ask for advice yields little of interest, except some breezy misogyny. I can’t get on board Data’s decision to run this experiment. The whole thing feels ick and the hoped-for comedy which Data’s cold-blooded romancing is intended to generate never got me to even smile, let alone laugh. There’s an obvious opportunity here to investigate the nature of artificial intelligence – not a new area of exploration for the show, but a rich vein. Instead we get little more than the Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. In an unrelated storyline, a nameless crew member gets gruesomely bisected and her death goes entirely unmourned, another weird decision in an episode primarily about whether or not Data has feelings. And speaking of weird decisions, there is no reason at all why Picard should be piloting that shuttle. Directed without error but without distinction by Patrick Stewart. I suspect giving a dog of a script to a leading actor who wants a go behind the camera is a deliberate policy.

TNG S04E26 Redemption (3 out of 5 stars). Episode 100. This is its own show now, able to draw inspiration from its legendary progenitor but not stuck repeating it, or afraid to acknowledge it. It’s also building its own mythos and that means its own version of the Klingons, who even as late as Star Trek III were really just generic bad-guys. So, as I feared, Picard wants to disinter that obscure business about Worf’s dishonor, which I can’t clearly recall even at the rate of watching one episode a day. But first, Gowron needs to be installed on the Klingon throne, against the wishes of both Tony Todd and the Kleavage sisters. This is all pretty turgid stuff, and something has gone seriously awry with the plotting when we start with Picard in the Klingon Council Chamber, have the civil war threaten to start, the Enterprise gets out of dodge (“brave Sir Captain ran away…”), but returns when the fighting is done, and then we go back to the same council chamber, having achieved I don’t know what. I also don’t quite know why I should give a shit about any of this, and there are endless scenes of Picard explaining why he isn’t going to intervene and various Klingons explaining why he should. Whereas The Best of Both Worlds was almost breathless as it raced to its climax, Redemption feels as if it is treading water for much of its run-time, unable to play its final ace until the closing moments. And it’s quite a final shot – but was it really worth all that shoe-leather to get there? Worf’s apparent departure plays a little more strongly and I almost believe it won’t be re-set (but not quite).

TNG S05E01 Redemption II (3.5 out of 5 stars). Again, we start with a recap of what happened “Last time on Star Trek The Next Generation”, we build once more to the final revelation of Denise Crosby as a Romulan and then need a new thrill-packed teaser to take us into the opening titles, where Kurn’s ship (with Worf now on board) is under attack. Then suddenly it’s two weeks later. So again, where the previous two-parter was an action movie which barely let the inter-season three month gap break its stride, here the narrative continues in a stuttering, halting fashion with only a bit of stunt casting marking it out as anything very special. And Picard’s next plan is a thrilling traffic stop. Whoop. Yay. “Space the final frontier…”

Of more interest is the decision to put senior Enterprise staff in command positions on various vessels, including Data as captain of the Sutherland (although Picard mysteriously is a dick about whether the android officer is going to get a ship or not). Finally, this turgid storyline, full of people with bumpy foreheads intoning gibberish in darkened rooms, begins to feel big enough to warrant its two-part season-spanning scheduling. And doesn’t Denise Crosby make a fabulous villain? It’s almost worth not having had her on the bridge these past three years to have her back now as the ruthless Sela. Weirdly of course, we know that Tasha Yar was sent back in time by this crew, but Picard and co have forgotten all about it, because that loop in time was closed by their actions, so all of this exposition has to be doled out to Picard, and again the middle of this episode feels languid, patient and relaxed, when surely it needs to be tense, claustrophobic and fast-paced. Picard barely breaks a sweat, a far cry from his massive crisis this time last year. Data’s journey from complete inability to inspire his crew to hero of the hour is more interesting and probably deserved an episode of its own (should he have snapped at Hobson though?) and some aspects of the cat-and-mouse game between Picard and Sela do work, but overall, even though this is better than part one with several strong sequences, it’s still a big disappointment especially compared to the amazing Best of Both Worlds.

Season 4 wrap-up

  • This is a series which is firmly in its groove now. It understands the characters, it understands the world and it shows no signs of running out of stories to tell. Every episode brings strong science-fiction concepts, thrilling adventure plots, solid emotional stories and a warm family feeling which is never cloying. True, there are no main characters with relationships which feel as real or as interesting as the holy trinity of Kirk, Spock and Bones, but this series makes much better use of the secondary cast and all the actors are doing good work now, led from the front by Sir Patrick Stewart who elevates every single scene he’s in, week after week.
  • And it’s cool that the Enterprise feels like a bigger place now, with recurring characters like Nurse Ogawa, Keiko O’Brien, Lt Barclay and co all making an appearance, and Chief O’Brien essentially now a regular in every way except he’s not in the opening credits. Speaking of which, these have a slightly naff Superman-style 3D comet trail for Season 5 and Season 5 only.
  • On the other hand. We’re still wrestling with how serialised this wants to be. Episodes like The Mind’s Eye require a fairly detailed recall of half-a-dozen prior installments, but two-parters are clearly identified as such (and relegated to end-of-season cliffhangers). There’s a vague sense of earlier episodes having an impact on later episodes, but this isn’t consistent and plenty of these stories could have been aired out-of-order with no ill-effects. I think the writers were gunning for a more serialised approach but Berman and the Paramount suits were keeping them in check.
  • We haven’t had a five out of five which wasn’t connected with an epic inter-season cliffhanger (although Half a Life came awfully close). But there have been plenty of 4s and 4½s even if we often get a really thoughtful and impactful episode immediately followed by a two-star clunker. But the ship now feels so lived-in, and the leading man so exemplary, that even a desperately silly recycled Phase II script is more worth watching than the stupidest TOS story and that’s why, again, I didn’t give anything less than two.
  • That said, Season 1 of TOS is still the one to beat, with an average of 3.75. Season 4 of TNG ends up about the same as Season 3 with an average of 3.52.

Trekaday 036: First Contact, Galaxy’s Child, Night Terrors, Identity Crisis, The Nth Degree, Qpid, The Drumhead

Posted on July 19th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S04E15 First Contact (4.5 out of 5 stars) opens with a crackerjack teaser. Instead of the Enterprise languidly orbiting a planet while Patrick Stewart sonorously bleats on about stellar mapping, diplomatic missions or shore leave, we find ourselves in media res during an episode of Bumpy Forehead ER. But the patient the doctors are trying to save has a variety of anomalous physiological details. Because it’s Riker in disguise! This is a very interesting and exciting way of telling the story, showing us our people from an outsider’s perspective and exploring the limits of the Prime Directive, not for the first time, but it’s a rich seam which repays multiple investigations. It lowers the stakes a little that the society in question is right on the verge of becoming warp-capable but for once, an alien civilization feels even a little bit lived-in and it’s rather a treat to see Carolyn Seymour as Mirasta, not to mention Bebe Neuwirth as Lanel who’s thirsty for alien peen (hilariously, Frakes plays their encounter exactly as if he’s a con-man pretending to be an alien in order to get his end away). Riker’s predicament also helps to keep the inevitable conflict at bay. We don’t need it yet, because it’s fascinating to watch Picard tiptoe through this first encounter and not put a foot wrong, keeping everything on track until the episode is almost over. And for once, progressivism, diplomacy and optimism loses, at least for now. Very strong stuff, which only needed more character development for one of the regulars to tip it over into five star classic.

TNG S04E16 Galaxy’s Child (3 out of 5 stars). One aspect of mid-period TNG I’d forgotten (or never noticed) is its willingness to revisit past episodes and try and make them work better or try and fit them more clearly into the show’s ongoing story. The Ferengi are the most obvious example of this, perhaps the most dogged insistence on never letting a bad idea drop I’ve ever seen, and it worked (perhaps not really until DS9 but still). The limp Samaritan Snare will be returned to as the excellent Tapestry. The passable Elementary Dear Data will be re-examined as the exemplary Ship in a Bottle. And here, Geordi is made to confront just what the consequences are of his skeezy actions in Booby Trap when the real Leah Brahms beams on board the Enterprise and won’t give him the time of day. They butt heads constantly and worse is to come when she inevitably finds his sex doll version of her on the Holodeck. But having brought these two characters to this fascinatingly awkward encounter, the episode can’t think of anything more interesting to do with the situation. Meanwhile, the rest of the bridge crew is dealing with a sort of space-mollusc which feels like a bit of a hand-me-down plot line with echoes of Farpoint, Tin Man and various others besides, so this is all a bit over-familiar, albeit with some grace notes, notably (as ever) Patrick Stewart’s detailed and compassionate rendering of Picard. The teleplay is credited to Season 2 show-runner and Beverly Crusher-hater Maurice Hurely, of all people. Once again, the matter/anti-matter ratio is a little more flexible than Wesley would have had us believe.

TNG S04E17 Night Terrors (3.5 out of 5 stars). Another ship, drifting in space and littered with bodies (saves on supporting cast). It seems they all went nuts and killed each other, so this is a variant on The Naked Now / Time only with more lethality and seeing the crew at each other’s throats additionally brings back memories of the Ten Forward brawl in Sarek. As with the last episode, this all feels a bit reheated. It’s interesting that we skip ten whole days while the ship is adrift, but the conceit that they’re in such a remote location that a sub-space communication won’t receive a reply for days or weeks contradicts episodes in which they can have real-time conversations with Star Fleet at will, without seemingly having voyaged for many months in between. Some of the hallucinations are genuinely unsettling (Beverly in the morgue) and as usual Patrick Stewart gives everything such texture and grace. What did we do to deserve him as our lead? And what does freshen-up the recipe a bit is the pervading feel of doom in the last third, which is something we haven’t seen before. The crew also look satisfyingly disheveled as the crisis deepens.

TNG S04E18 Identity Crisis (4 out of 5 stars). Geordi’s past (in which he’s seen in his Season 1 uniform) comes back to haunt him as members of an expedition he was a part of all seem to be deserting and/or suiciding. His claim to be enjoying the bachelor lifestyle is greeted with suitable incredulity by his big-sisterly old colleague, played with feeling by Maryann Plunkett. After joining the away team to investigate the stolen shuttles, inevitably, she starts to succumb to whatever malign influence is at work. Geordi’s patient investigation on the Holodeck is more interesting for being unhurried, and the switch from him being hunter to quarry is well-handled. This is an absorbing suspense thriller which works well, with good science-fiction elements, and it successfully creates a convincing earlier career for Geordi, if not really delivering much in the way of deeper character work.

TNG S04E19 The Nth Degree (4.5 out of 5 stars). Barclay is back. And because the Enterprise is a cross between a community centre and a country club, he’s performing in a production of Cyrano de Bergerac for an audience of about 12, mainly the bridge crew. After being whammied in a shuttlecraft, he bounces back with a newfound and mysterious swagger. Dwight Schultz is better than ever, expertly connecting Barclay’s new confidence to his old anxiety. He still can’t prise himself away from the Holodeck, however, hobnobbing with Albert Einstein about grand unified theories. Jim Norton will reprise the role in Season 6. The bridge team wonder if they should try and return him back the way he was, but they need the eggs so he’s allowed to continue working in engineering and on the space telescope they’re trying to fix (when he isn’t becoming a brilliant actor or learning to play the violin overnight). When he uploads himself to the Enterprise computer to stop the telescope going critical, he discovers it’s a one-way trip. Making the enemy who has taken over the ship and is refusing to surrender control our beloved Lt Broccoli is a very neat moral dilemma and there’s a real sense of jeopardy and stakes here. Terrific stuff.

TNG S04E20 Qpid (2 out of 5 stars). It’s yet another returning guest character, following close behind episodes featuring Barclay, Leah Brahms and a pretend old friend for La Forge. And not just Q, Jennifer Hetrick is back as Picard’s holiday fling Gash Vag Vash. But her moon-eyed bleating about how Picard hasn’t mentioned her to his friends feels more like a high school movie and less like genre-defining science fiction television. It’s something of a relief when John de Lancie shows up, on the slimmest of pretexts. Picard fretting over his speech to a room full of archeologists feels pathetic as well. It would have been about this time that Patrick Stewart starting telling anyone who would listen that the captain needed to do more fighting and fucking. Oh dear. Before long, the bridge crew is cos-playing Robin Hood and while it’s nice to be out on location, this all feels rather thin and inconsequential, and Jean-Luc and Vash’s sub-Moonlighting banter is pretty dreadful.

TNG S04E21 The Drumhead (2.5 out of 5 stars). We begin with an investigation into a duplicitous Klingon exchange officer already underway. Classing up the joint considerably is Jean Simmons as the Witch-smeller Pursuivant up against whose kangaroo court, Picard rapidly stands. Court room dramas have worked on the series before, but their people-talking-in-rooms energy can make for languid episodes, and so it is here, with the captain’s clear-eyed righteous indignation leaving little room for moral complexity. I’m not sure what I want here. If Picard gets it wrong, it’s potentially a more interesting journey for him, but perhaps then we’ll be back where we were when he was busy trying to rip children away from the only home they’d ever known. As it is, his resolute certainty leaves little room for doubt as to the outcome. Maybe the episode was just misconceived, but centering Picard and giving him lots of big speeches is a good way to earn an extra star.

Trekaday 035: Final Mission, The Loss, Data’s Day, The Wounded, Devil’s Due, Clues

Posted on July 12th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S04E09 Final Mission (3 out of 5 stars). Wesley is being packed off to Star Fleet Academy, finally. But this is nothing more than a pretext on which to, once again, stick Picard and The Boy in a shuttlecraft together, as in the rather thin Samaritan Snare. The teaser is unseemly brief, cutting off in mid-scene as the mining ship is beset by space turbulence, while helmed by a Diet Coke Zefram Cochrane named Captain Dirgo. While the actual crash is obscured by a budget-saving screen white-out, the first shots of the planet’s surface are very impressive with some lovely lens flares emphasising the punishing sunlight. I can just imagine a young JJ Abrams watching with eyes like saucers. So, as is traditional, one group of our characters is trapped in a hostile environment and those on the ship have other (less interesting) things to worry about.

As pure character-development episodes go, this is fairly basic. Picard is his usual pragmatic and diplomatic self. Everyone in a Star Fleet uniform is better than anyone not in a Star Fleet uniform. Wesley’s puppy dog devotion to his captain doesn’t achieve much. This is also a variation on a situation we’ve seen before – with Picard and Crusher in The Arsenal of Freedom and Geordi and a Romulan in The Enemy. So, the interest lies in watching Wesley have to step up when Picard is benched by injury. There’s little likelihood that he won’t have the stuff (he basically has to solve a text adventure game kind of puzzle), but Wil Wheaton gives it everything he’s got and so the journey is not without interest. Trouble is, the relationship stuff only really comes into focus once the idiotic Dirgo is out of the way. Imagine how much more interesting this would have been if Picard and Wesley had been alone and getting on each other’s nerves before they faced this crisis, instead of being united in their effortless moral superiority over Captain Selfish.

There are other fumbles, too. PICARD: Mr Crusher, do you have any moisture readings? CRUSHER: (standing next to Dirgo, who has a flask in his pocket) No sir. And usually-dependable director Corey Allen is so concerned to keep the action clear that he depicts Picard standing stock still and staring up at the rockfall which makes him look like a cartoon character. Radiation exposure goes from “no ill-effects whatsoever” to “100% lethal” in an eye-blink, as ever.

TNG S04E10 The Loss (3.5 out of 5 stars). When not sitting to Picard’s left on the bridge, it turns out Deanna Troi does actually have a counseling practice, and her treatment regimens include a radical “hiding-other-people’s-possessions-and-returning-them-at-moments-of-high-drama” protocol. She also sees some people daily. How does she find the time? Especially as a later conversation with Dr Crusher makes it clear that she doesn’t have a staff. She ends up talking to Guinan, perhaps inevitably. Her spiky, defensive reaction to her sudden disability is quite striking and makes her a fascinating character (she even tells Picard where he can shove his inspirational anecdotes) but she’s also completely unlike with anyone we’ve seen in the nearly 90 prior episodes of the show. Imagine if they’d started with that – the expert counsellor who can deal with everyone’s problems except her own. Wow. So, it’s hard to know what to do with this. As an exploration of grief, disability, anger, and rejection it’s very strong. As the continuing story of Counsellor Troi, it’s a fever dream. Not that surprising for a show which is still figuring out just how much serialised storytelling it is capable of or, or wants, but disappointing nonetheless.

TNG S04E11 Data’s Day (4 out of 5 stars). One of the most vital things a long-running series needs to do is figure out its engine. TNG struggled for almost two years to land on what makes it work, and now in the middle of its fourth year, it needs to learn how to ring the changes. Sure, “one member of the bridge crew goes through a character-forming crisis while everyone else frets over a space anomaly” has become a pretty sure-fire formula, but if we see too many of those in a row, we’ll start to see the scaffolding more clearly than is seemly. Here we follow Data while he is off duty, messing up O’Brien’s love life (this is the first appearance of Rosalind Chao as Keiko), playing with his cat and so on. In a sort of Pulp Fiction mode, another more traditional Star Trek story is happening on the fringes, involving Picard and a Vulcan ambassador and the Neutral Zone. We don’t learn a tremendous amount about Data, but his take on the unpredictable, ironical, emotional humans is fascinating, even after this many episodes. It’s also a great showcase for Colm Meany, who will shortly be headhunted for the spin-off. Plus – Gates McFadden tap dancing! The third act, where the formula re-asserts itself has somewhat less to offer, as the mystery is super-obvious and rapidly solved. Rather sweetly, Data’s log is being compiled for the benefit of Commander Maddox who wanted to disassemble the android in The Measure of a Man. Riker has Phillips Hue lights installed on the bridge to help deal with his SAD.

TNG S04E12 The Wounded (4 out of 5 stars). In scenes that recall the introduction of the Romulans in The Original Series, there is much talk of the recently-ended war with the Cardassians and how little they can be trusted. Meanwhile on Deep Space Enterprise, O’Brien and Keiko are in their quarters, happily swapping food cultures in their downtime. O’Brien is still in uniform. What, did you think the wardrobe department was made of money? As with the Ferengi, one of the first actors we see as a Cardassian will return to that species as a much more significant character. Here Marc Alaimo plays Gul Macet with purring Bond-villain relish. Investigating the destruction of a Cardassian science station, Picard advocates radical openness with Macet’s team. Their quarry is Captain Maxwell played by Bob Gunton, who was all over 90s TV and movies playing slime-balls and ne’er-do-wells (he’s the prison warden in Shawshank for example). In single-handedly re-starting hostilities, he’s essentially General Ripper from Dr Strangelove, and this is darker, nastier stuff than we’ve seen before from this show, showing the cost of war on good people on both sides, and it’s fascinating. Yet again, O’Brien gets a good slice of the action, more than several of the actual regulars, some of whom don’t appear at all, but that also means that he’s centre-stage for one of the sillier climaxes in the series, wherein the war-crazed Star Fleet captain is defeated by the judicious application of a strategic sea-shanty.

TNG S04E13 Devil’s Due (2 out of 5 stars). By now, TNG had firmly established its own style, characters and cannon, and there was no danger of it recycling silly ideas like having the Enterprise meet God. Anyway, in this episode, the Enterprise meets the devil. The crew answers a distress call, can only lock on to one member of the science team who are all screaming for help, beam him up and then consider the matter closed. Over a calm cup of tea, Dr Clarke tells Picard that the inhabitants of Faustus II believe they’ve sold their souls to the devil. This devil is “Ardra” played by Marta DuBois who seems to be auditioning to be a Batman villain as she says things like “Stop cowering, if I want you on your knees, I’ll let you know,” which isn’t quite as clever or as funny as it sounds. It ends up as a court room drama, a setting which has proven to be highly effective in past episodes, but which here turns what is purported to be a thousand year old legend brought to terrifying life into people in silly clothes talking in one room, and having Data be the judge has nothing like the power of making Riker mount the case for the prosecution in The Measure of a Man. This is, for some reason, the other Phase II script (after The Child in Season 2) which turns up in the new series. Quite why this was plucked off the slush pile is anyone’s guess. We haven’t had anything this silly or inconsequential for quite some time.

TNG S04E14 Clues (3.5 out of 5 stars). Oh dear, Dixon Hill is back. Luckily, the focus of this episode is not on these tiresome gumshoe exploits, which Guinan clearly finds as irritating as I do. Instead, the crew is trying to understand why Data appears to be lying about the amount of time they spent unconscious when they came into contact with a wormhole. The whole thing is something of a red queen’s race – a lot of energy expended in order to go nowhere – and the resolution feels like the solution to a crossword puzzle with not much in the way of emotional catharsis. The question of whether or not Data is to be trusted is not without interest, and as cheap ship-bound episodes with no guest cast (apart from O’Brien) go, this one isn’t bad. But we wouldn’t want too many of these rather arid outings in a row. Data uses a protocol called “zed zed alpha” which is a nice nod to Douglas Adams in an episode which has a certain Red Dwarf flavor to my eyes.

Boris Johnson definitely quits as PM, for real, no backsies

Posted on July 8th, 2022 in The Brains Trust | 1 Comment »

Speaking to the press at Number Ten Downing Street today, still Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he understood the will of the party and the will of the British people, even if they were wrong. “That’s the way the uh the uh the uh cookie crumbles,” he continued, “I have no hesitation now in er in er in er stepping down, or er, or er, or aside, as it were, to let the next leader take over. And I will be doing that with full effect and immediately. It is true that the public have judged me and found me wanting – not wanting a few more years in Downing Street, obvs.”

Mr Johnson continued to speak while lashing himself to his desk with stout bungee cords, saying “The time has come for ah for ah for ah for ah me to end my time as Prime Minister. Didn’t last quite as long as Theresa May, but oh well. And it would be frankly undignified for me to stay a moment longer. And I am nothing, if not dignified”. And at these words, aides began nailing wooden boards across the doorway, effectively barricading him inside.

Meanwhile, commenting on the constitutional impasse caused by the Prime Minister’s semi resignation, political analyst Professor Hugo Z Hackenbush, explained that “the British Constitution, whilst unwritten, provides clear and simple precedent for dealing with situations such as this. For example, if Boris were to step aside whilst standing in the Duchy of Cornwall and wearing pantaloons he would be able to declare his son Prime Minister and remain as the Prime Minister Regent until his son comes of age”.

The Brain’s Trust also spoke to professional man in the street Derek Gadd who explained that the public remained behind Boris and blamed “Emmanuel Macron and the French in general” for the chaos in the UK. “If they weren’t shipping thousands of workshy, swarthy immigrants across the channel, we wouldn’t be in this mess. And we can’t even get any next day deliveries, decent coffee or restaurant service because they’ve lured all the proper French back to France with higher wages and lower retirement ages. Bastards.”

In Downing Street, cement mixers surrounded the building, jacketing all available entrances in concrete, Mr Johnson’s voice was heard emanating from what was now more bunker than Georgian terrace saying “Of course, finding a successor might take a little while longer, but I want the British people to know that I have gone, I have resigned, I am I am I am I am no more, and the grenade launchers, tripwires, landmines and snipers surrounding my office are little more than a typical security measure.”

Speaking to the Brains Trust, opposition leader Keir Starmer said “Oh shit, I thought we had another six months, we’re not ready. This is all fucking Jeremy Corbyn’s fault. Wait. You aren’t going to print that are you?”

Trekaday 034: Brothers, Suddenly Human, Remember Me, Legacy, Reunion, Future Imperfect

Posted on July 6th, 2022 in Culture | No Comments »

TNG S04E03 Brothers (4 out of 5 stars). From Family to Brothers. In the teaser, Riker of all people has to deal with a practical joke gone wrong. Surely the command structure isn’t so narrow that the second-most senior officer has to deal with bratty kids? If any of the bridge crew needed to be involved, I would have expected it to be Troi, but this isn’t an episode which deals with overbearing mothers or roguish space cowboys, so we can hardly expect her to get a line. No, this is a Data episode and more than that it’s a Lore episode, with Brent Spiner now adding Dr Soong to his roster of characters (as well as impersonating Picard, thanks to some post-syncing). The Data-hijacks-the-Enterprise sequence is suitably exciting but once again we’re faced with the fact that this enormous ship with a crew of several hundred can be successfully piloted by one android (wait till we get to Remember Me).

When Data comes face-to-face with his creator and fellow creation, the results are compelling. Spiner is incredible in his triple role, and the effects work, all done on a TV budget and still a few years before digital compositing, is very effective. Echoing the sci-fi adventure storyline with conflict between the two squabbling kids is a reasonable attempt to add some depth and thematic resonance, but the subplot is clichéd and dull, so it drags the episode down rather than elevates it. What’s fun about this is that Data has no idea Soong is alive and Soong has no idea Lore is alive. That’s nifty plotting which keeps our interest and prevents this from being a re-run of Datalore. Soong’s sudden need for a convenient snooze, virtually in mid-sentence, rather less so. Unusually for this show, a clear memory of earlier episodes is required and there’s very little handholding for anyone who might not know who Lore is, or what a crystalline entity might be, but the Data/Lore/Soong scenes are so strong as to sweep away many of these quibbles. The ensign in engineering is wearing the new uniform, but it’s the seam-down-the-middle-of-the-chest version. Rick Berman gets sole writing credit on this one, which is a fairly rare occurrence.

S04E04 Suddenly Human (2.5 out of 5 stars). Rather in the vein of the Smith and Jones sketch which parodied the way in which UK news broadcasts would emphasise the number of Britons involved in overseas catastrophes (and list the remaining wounded in order of importance), when the Enterprise rescues five young trainees from a stricken Talarian craft, everyone fixates on the human boy. It is quickly determined that all of his foreign nonsense needs to be drummed out of him for his own good, and that regardless of the strength of the loving bond between him and his Talarian parents, being returned to a human society he has no memory of is definitely what should happen. (“They brutalised him.” “I forbid you from any custom I personally am unfamiliar with regardless of how much comfort you should happen to draw from it.”) Because this is 90s Trek he is of course rigidly patriarchal. Due to a plot contrivance, Picard (who evidently has plenty of time on his hands) is required to be the one to draw him out, despite the fact that he’s (all together now) no good with children. Nothing we haven’t seen before, but the scene between him and Troi which painstakingly goes over this ground probes a little deeper and is arguably the highlight of quite a thin and frustrating episode, in which Picard can’t understand the concept of an adoptive parent without being stabbed through the chest first. Yes, they get it right in the end, but it’s hard to appreciate the journey when the destination is so breathtakingly obvious and our people so blinkered and stubborn. That Picard/Troi scene is worth an extra half a star.

S04E05 Remember Me? (4.5 out of 5 stars). When I was reading comics as a teenager, I was easily seduced by the seemingly apocalyptic scenes presented on the covers, which promised to totally upend the established norms of the story “It can’t be! The Incredible Hulk is Superman!” That kind of thing. Often, when this panel actually turned up on page 19 out of 24, it would turn out to be a bit less epoch-defining than it seemed and sometimes it would be an outright cheat. But just like those maddening click-bait ads, I can’t resist a story premise which seemingly undercuts the very thing which makes the show work. Some of my favourite episodes fall into this category, but the hard part is sticking the landing – making the revelation of what’s really going on as interesting as what seemed to be going on, and not hitting the reset button too jarringly hard. Remember Me is that rarest of things, a Crusher-based story which isn’t a medical emergency or a soapy love story. Beverley is stuck on an Enterprise which is rapidly losing personnel, and it seems she’s the only one who recalls the familiar faces who used to roam its corridors. It’s a delicious mystery, carefully set up, Gates McFadden does great work and the resolution is exciting and makes sense. It’s probably only really worth four stars, but I’m going to bump it up half a star because it’s just so much fun. What I love about this episode more than anything is the way in which none of the bridge crew refuse to believe the doctor, almost no matter how nuts she sounds. It means we get way more story beats in the time available and it makes the crew seem like what they are – a family. Writer Lee Sheldon didn’t stick around, but he recommended Jeri Taylor, who will become a core part of the team very soon.

TNG S04E06 Legacy (2.5 out of 5 stars). A landmark episode which saw the new live action series overtake the old in terms of number of instalments. But the inhabitants of Turkana IV are yet more sub-Mad Max warlike colonists with designer stubble and 90s highlights. Evoking Tasha Yar doesn’t do Beth Toussaint any favours either. While it’s nice to be off the ship for once, the petty squabbles between the blandly-named Coalition and the even more blandly-named Alliance are so tedious that even the crew is more interested in the Yar family tree than they are in the supposedly thrilling escapes from death happening in the caves on the planet below. This would love to be an epic story about betrayal, trust and family but it gets far too bogged down in its cross and double-cross plotting and none of the supporting cast registers.

TNG S04E07 Reunion (3.5 out of 5 stars). Following episodes which have seen the return of the Traveller, Lore, and the evocation of Tasha Yar, this week K’Ehleyr is back, and it’s always a treat to see Suzie Plakson. Worf does not share my enthusiasm and he’s pretty much horrified by the sight of the Klingon child who materialises next to her on the transporter. “I won’t bore you with the intricacies of Klingon politics,” the ambassador tells Data, showing that she has her storytelling priorities straight. Sadly, a lot of the rest of this relies on not just following the internecine details of this episode, but recalling the equally baroque specifics of the earlier stories Sins of the Father and The Emissary. Among a lot of dimly-lit Klingons under similar makeup, Robert “Eyes” O’Reilly makes a strong visual impression as Gowron. Of more interest is Worf’s relationship with moppety Alexander, and Michael Dorn is excellent throughout, but never more so than in these scenes. This thread will continue through subsequent episodes, but the part will be re-cast. The price we pay for this addition to the cast is the loss of K’Ehleyr which stings. Plakson will be back in both Voyager and Enterprise. We see a bat’leth for the first time, as decoration, as training tool and finally as method of lethal dispatch.

TNG S04E08 Future Imperfect (4.5 out of 5 stars). Time for Riker to get another character dimension. This time it’s “plays the trombone”. Thin? Yes, but fun, and it is one of the things I remember about him (and the writers of Lower Decks evidently remember it too). Party pooper Picard virtually snatches the birthday cake out of his mouth before sending him to Planet Matte Painting, where moments later, he’s choking from methane inhalation. Happy birthday, mate. When he wakes up, sixteen years have passed. This is another of those brilliant cover-of-a-comic book premises. We know it can’t be true, but it gives the writers a bit more freedom to play and it’s (generally) fascinating to watch how the mystery eventually falls away. No money for new uniforms, just a new style of communicator and no rank pips, even though Star Fleet togs will undergo two fairly drastic revisions in the next five years. Like a good practical joke, the clues are there, and even though the number of possible explanations is very small, the vision of the future is so engaging and so much fun, that I doubt many viewers were scrolling through options as they watched – I certainly wasn’t. And even if you were, there’s another twist coming (although neither is wholly convincing). Among the pleasures are Geordi’s eyes, a Ferengi on the bridge, Admiral Picard (in yet another seamstress-panic-attack uniform and a Colonel Sanders beard) and Andreas Katsulas returning as Tomalak. High concept usually means low stakes, and so it is here, so this is very, very good rather than an unassailable classic. Troi and Crusher sport identical “older lady” hairdos. And doesn’t Troi look good in uniform?