Star Trek: TNG Season 6 “Birthright, Part II” and “Starship Mine”

I smell DEAD ROMULANS!

I smell DEAD ROMULANS!

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Birthright, Part II”

Plot

Worf has been captured by Romulans in what is ostensibly a prison planet. But it turns out the Klingons held here are staying willingly, and have integrated with the Romulans who are there captors. Indeed, some have even intermarried and had Klingon-Romulan children! After causing some trouble, Worf is placed under guard, but he continues to work to try to instruct the young Klingons in the ways of their people. He gets through to young Toq, who had been assigned to guard him, after a hunting outing. Toq comes back singing and translating a Klingon hymn. Tokath, the Romulan commander, decides he must execute Worf, but the young all go to stand with him and he must relent, allowing several to leave with Worf to return to the Klingon Empire.

Commentary

Klingon-Romulan Children, Batman!? WHAT?

That was about Worf’s reaction, too. He had a similar negative reaction when he saw Toq using a Klingon spear to till soil.

I loved the scene in which the Klingon hymn was passed along from person to person–something which had apparently become a lullaby was suddenly infused with much cultural meaning. The development of Toq’s character was fascinating, and it provided a great way to see the conflict that was playing out on a smaller scale.

What makes this episode particularly fascinating is the competing moral themes found therein. On the one hand, can you truly fault a Romulan who wants to have peaceful coexistence with Klingons, and helped forge his own vision of that peace in a part of the Romulan Empire? On the other hand, should that peace be based on deception–or at least withholding truth? These aren’t easy questions to answer, and the episode largely just leaves them hanging out there. We are clearly supposed to side with Worf and truth, but on the other hand we can’t help but sympathize with the desire for peace.

I’ll admit it: I’m a sucker for Klingon culture, so this one was just a slam dunk for me all around. The one thing I think it may have missed out on was developing the story we got in part I regarding Data a bit more. Otherwise, this episode did everything right.

Grade: A+ “Epic exploration of recovering lost culture.” 

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It was a good exploration of the Klingon identity.”

“Starship Mine”

Plot

The Enterprise is docked for repairs, but when Picard goes back on board to retrieve his saddle, he discovers a plot to steal highly dangerous material off the ship. He thus works to thwart the perpetrators as much as he can, ultimately managing to destabilize the material such that it explodes just after they escape.

Commentary

Okay, so my plot summary left out the scenes in which the crew had to deal with small talk (oh no!) and try to figure out how to mess with their captors back on the surface, but this one really has very little plot overall. It’s all about Picard stopping the plot to steal explosive crap from the ship. It’s not bad, but it isn’t great either. It’s kind of ho-hum, really.

It was great seeing Data adapt himself to small talk. I mean, seriously, the scene in which he and “Hutch,” the Starfleet commander on the surface are going back and forth endlessly with their banter was just fantastic. I laughed out loud (not lol’d, but in reality).

Once again we run into the very real problem of stretching the suspension of disbelief beyond the limits. How is it that they wouldn’t actively be scanning to make sure Picard came back to the planet? Why wouldn’t they just beam him back, thus preventing him from interfering with the capture of the materials? Why even let him go back to the Enterprise? Clearly, the plot had help from the top levels, so they could have easily just said that the scan was in progress and Picard couldn’t return to the ship. Problem solved, right? But no, they don’t do that. Oh, and by the way, they also didn’t bother to put in any failsafes on the system such that if it were about to, I don’t know, kill somebody, it would stop automatically and send a warning back to the control console. All of this makes this a tough episode to swallow.

Also, did “Hutch” actually die in this? I don’t remember it being stated definitively, but he was a really fun side character and it’s sad he got dispatched so quickly. It would have been great to have him continuing his small talk banter after being captured!

What I did like, apart from “Hutch,” was seeing the ways Picard came up with to thwart the people on the ship. It was fun seeing all the Jefferies Tube scenes with him crawling all around everywhere and setting up traps. It made the episode more compelling than it would have been otherwise.

Not a terrible episode, but not up to the standard I’ve come to expect either.

Grade: C+ “It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t compelling.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “Not as interesting as other episodes, but still was fun to see Picard going all around the ship.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

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Watching Basketball is fun… until the end of the game

Hack-a-Shaq, begin! I do not own copyright for this image but could not track down the specific copyright holder. I use it under fair use.

Hack-a-Shaq, begin! I do not own copyright for this image but could not track down the specific copyright holder. I use it under fair use.

I like watching Basketball, but goodness they need to change the late-game rules. First, the hack-a-Shaq maneuver [intentionally fouling the worst free-throw shooter on the other team the moment the ball is inbound] is ridiculous and draws the last two minutes of an even remotely close game out so much it takes like 30 minutes to get through. I know they can’t not call a foul, because it is an obvious foul. However, if there were something that stipulates that intentional fouls in late game scenarios like this means the other team picks who shoots the FTs might be a good idea. It’s super annoying. I know it’s an absurdly common strategy, but it’s a strategy that makes the late game nearly unwatchable.

Another proposal by a friend for a rule change is to, with 2 minutes left, automatically award the team that gets fouled 2 points and give the fouling team the ball, with some kind of clock runoff as a possibility. This would probably curtail the intentional fouling a lot, as it would have effectively no benefit.

Second, the egregious use of video review at the end to make sure that valuable .1 seconds are not lost is bogus. I was watching a college game the other night in which there were less than 2 seconds left in the game, one team was up by 3 points. The ball was inbound and then knocked back out. Video review was called and after 4 minutes (!) the referees changed the clock from .8 seconds to 1.3 seconds. This was with the team who was in the lead having the ball. Those .5 seconds meant all the world, as the team inbound the ball again and won immediately. I’m glad 4 minutes of my life were wasted for that /sarcasm [okay, I was running on an elliptical and listening to a Harry Potter book so it wasn’t really wasted]. But really, this garbage needs to end.

I understand that there is a desire to not let one wrong call blow a game, but that has to be balanced with the possibility of having many games get boring due to clock shenanigans at or near the end.

End the Madness… just not the March Madness.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Robotech: The Macross Saga – 30+ years late review

Super cool art!

Super cool art!

I received the complete series box set of Robotech for Christmas in 2014. I had been wanting to watch a new anime, as I hadn’t done so in, well, too long. I figured I’d go back to the roots and check out Robotech because I always thought it looked so cool. Here, I’ll offer a review of Season 1, also known as “The Macross Saga.” There will be 30 year-old SPOILERS in what follows.

The Macross Saga starts in a fairly dramatic fashion: some alien warship crashed into Earth (said warship is later named the SDF-1) and humans prepare to meet whatever threat might be following it by adopting its “Robotech” (robo-technology- get it?) as their own. The aliens, the Zentraedi [or Zentradi, depending which corner of the internet you ask to spell it for you], show up to collect the crashed ship, thus setting off a war with humanity. There is plenty more plot where that came from, but that sets up the basis for the rest of the season.

Frankly, the plot isn’t anything spectacular. What makes the show worth watching are the characters, who have surprising depth and undergo significant development throughout the series. I say it is “surprising” because this is largely a show for kids, and I wasn’t expecting much in the way of character development. Thus, I was pleasantly delighted by how much depth several of the characters had. Towards the end of the season, there develops a complex love quadrangle between Lynn Minmei (pop singer and movie star), Lynn Kyle (her cousin–it’s Japan, folks!), Lisa Hayes (officer on board the SDF-1), and Rick Hunter (fighter pilot and main character). I had a lot of fun watching this develop and it is quite well-written. Lynn Kyle is a major jerk, by the way–his verbal abuse of Minmei was enough to have me yelling at the TV screen a couple times.

I said the plot isn’t spectacular, but that’s not because it is overly-predictable. It has a few twists which I didn’t see coming, not because they were well-disguised but because I wouldn’t have guessed exactly how they’d play out. The Zentraedi ultimately are converted to human culture through the singing of Minmei, one of the female protagonists. Yep. That happens. Epic pop music is humanity’s secret weapon, so you better be thankful for all the Biebers and T-Swifts out there. But seriously, it was actually kind of cool to see how this played out as the Zentraedi were exposed to more and more human culture and discovered they, well, kind of liked it!

That insight brings me to some criticisms of the show. First, the singing of Minmei isn’t actually that great, despite the fact that she’s supposed to be this major pop sensation. The songs are catchy, but her delivery left something to be desired. I think I’ll always remember the songs, though. I can hear them playing in my head right now, actually. The ridiculous way some of the plot plays out is another strike, like the above pop-stars conquer all motif. There are also way too many flashbacks. I get that it’s a show largely for kids so summary is a good idea, but there is one episode that is just the captain going back over previous episodes the whole time. It’s just too much.

Robotech: The Macross Saga is a great anime. It is fun and flies past, just like a great TV show should. I enjoyed it, and I think if I were about two decades younger, it would have been on my all-time favorites list. As it stands, it is a very solid anime. I recommend it.

The Good

+Surprisingly deep love story
+Great animation of fight sequences
+Interesting look at the impact of culture
+Good music
+Developed characters

The Bad

-The singing isn’t great
-Plenty of silliness
-Too many flashbacks

The Verdict

Grade: A- “Robotech’s first season has plenty to critique, but it also has plenty of heart and some totally awesome scenes.”

Robotech was a lot of fun to watch, and actually got better as the season went on. I’m looking forward to the next season.

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 6 “Tapestry” and “Birthright, Part I”

Blue shirt? Kill me now.

Blue shirt? Kill me now.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Tapestry”

Plot

Picard dies and meets Q in the afterlife. Q challenges him on how he got the artificial heart and offers the possibility of avoiding the same mistakes by reliving his life as a young Picard. Picard accepts after some debate and is thrust back into himself at a younger age. As he reverses his decisions that led to him getting an artificial heart (and that he thinks are blemishes on his past), he discovers that the long-term consequences are great. Fast forward and Picard is a science officer on board the Enterprise, with little ambition or drive. He demands that Q take him back and let him die. Q instead restarts his heart in the real world and Picard recovers fully.

Commentary

“Picard dies and meets Q in the afterlife” – that’s a surefire set up for something that will end up going either extraordinarily poorly or very well. Thankfully, it was the latter. This is really an endearing look at Picard. It fills out his back story, while also giving us a glimpse into what he views as most important. We see a young Picard who is more foolish and boisterous than the Picard we know, but it fits the persona of the “real” Picard. You can see how he could have developed out of the character they showed.

The story isn’t the most epic–it’s really just three Starfleet officers hanging out. What makes it work is the premise. You have to be willing to stick with the characters because you like Picard so much. It was a smart choice to leave Picard as Patrick Stewart instead of giving us a different perspective on the young Picard–it keeps us engaged with the character in a way that might have been more difficult with a different actor (though it worked in “Rascals”). Q is really great in this one as well. Nothing too crazy, but still very in character. Loved it.

My favorite part of this episode is when Picard discovers he is a science officer. Rather than being content to live, he decides the only thing he should do is immediately go back and die. Picard just can’t handle being the little guy, and I find that hilarious at the same time as it is telling. It’s great.

Grade: A “A great episode that provides insight into Picard’s younger self, while also giving all kinds of opportunity for comedy and reflection.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was interesting to see the way history might be changed, but it lacked something special to make it great.”

“Birthright, Part I”

Plot

The Enterprise is docked at Deep Space Nine, a Starfleet-run space station. As the crew mingles with those aboard the station, Worf is approached by an alien who claims his father is still alive and a prisoner of the Romulans. While Worf struggles to discern whether he wants to pursue the information, Data experiences some feedback that leads him into having dreams, which awaken a new level of neural development for his Android brain. Ultimately, Worf tracks down the information broker, lands on the planet, and is captured by Romulans.

Commentary

What? We get to see Deep Space Nine in this one! I can’t wait to start going through that series again, and that glimpse really whetted my appetite for it.

It was cool to see Data having dreams and coming into discovery about himself. As Picard said, he’s a culture of one, and so he can explore meaning and the like within his own context. I wonder about how it is supposed to work, exactly. Allegedly the tinkering done around Data actually triggered the dream portion of his neural net a little early. Does that mean he will have trouble adapting to it? Or will it bring him to the next level more quickly?

The plot that follows Worf is vastly different, though you can see some parallels. Both Data and Worf are trying to seek out real aspects of themselves–for Data it is an encounter with his “father” in a dream world; for Worf, it is the sudden possibility that his father might have lost his honor after all. Each traces back their origins.

It will be fun to see how Worf gets out of this one–and how it develops, because it seems like the Klingons aren’t necessarily captives in a traditional sense.

Grade: A- “An interesting setup for more discovery of Worf and Data’s background.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “I particularly enjoyed the Data dream sequences.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Trek: TNG Season 6 “Aquiel” and “Face of the Enemy”

Time to kick some Romulan butt.

Time to kick some Romulan butt.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. I’ve also included a score and comment from my wife, who has never seen the show before. There are SPOILERS for each episode below.

“Aquiel”

Plot

The Enterprise investigates an interstellar com station when it goes quiet, but there is no one left aboard other than a dog… and an ominous looking pile of genetic goop. Geordi La Forge works to access the visual files of Aquiel, one of the two stationed on board, as Dr. Crusher examines the goop. Meanwhile Picard and gang interact with some Klingons who may have had contact with the station recently. Just after La Forge manages to get through Aquiel’s file, it turns out she’s alive and had been captured by the Klingons. Her story is tough to reconcile with the evidence as well as the previous records of both her Starfleet career and that of the man stationed with her, who appears to have been killed. Ultimately, it was actually a body-snatching crazy gelatinous beast that killed her coworker earlier, and then her dog… and tried to kill Geordi.

Commentary

Yep, that last sentence isn’t creepy at all. We’ll set that aside until later. For now, let’s focus on what works here. The mystery was sustained throughout the episode, in particular as you as the viewer learn, through accompanying Geordi, that Aquiel seems pretty normal and even personable. Then, you discover that she might be lying about some things and even distorting the truth, and her service record isn’t great; whereas the man she is saying started the violence has a stellar record. Seeing it through Geordi’s perspective gives it some credence of holding mystery for longer.

The biggest problem here is really hard to get over: it is extremely difficult to believe. Some random body-snatching/eating alien entity that is itself not really intelligent manages to take on not just the appearance but also the entire personality and job of the beings it consumes? Just by observing it for some period of time? It’s too much to take seriously.

Another problem was La Forge getting reverted to the inept male lead character. He’d done so well! But now, he falls in love with a video before he even meets the woman recording them. Alas.

“Aquiel” is not a bad episode, it just fails by providing a too easy (and too weird) solution to the questions it raises.

Grade: B- “An intriguing mystery that stretches the suspension of disbelief just a bit too much.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was an interesting episode, but some of Geordi’s actions in particular and the investigation seemed to be far-fetched.”

“Face of the Enemy”

Plot

Troi wakes up as a Romulan. Apparently she’s been captured by N’Vek, a Subcommander on a Romulan Warbird, and altered to help assist several high-ranking Romulan officials escape and seek asylum in the Federation. She is masquerading as a member of the Tal Shiar, the Romulan intelligence agency. As the Captain of the Romulan Warbird presses Troi, not quite believing her story, the plan starts to fall apart. Eventually, Troi takes the plan over, demanding to be given a say lest she blow the top off. She is able to coordinate with N’Vek to get herself and the defectors onto the Enterprise, but not before N’Vek is struck down.

Commentary

Maybe I’m a little inconsistent here, but I’m a bit more forgiving on this one regarding the “believable” factor. There is, I think, real reason to doubt that Troi would be able to pull off any kind of realistic imitation of a Romulan. Sure, they added in the device of her being “Tal Shiar” and so she wasn’t really to be questioned, but it seems like it would be extraordinarily difficult to, without warning, just step in to a role as an intelligence officer.

What makes up for it is the strength of the suspense and the tension. You can just–barely–believe that it is possible, because Troi manages to deflect the pointed questions leveled at her by the captain. And really, this episode is Troi’s time to shine. She kicks some major butt all over the place, giving orders, setting out demands, smacking down subordinates, and the like. She comes into her own in the role that was thrust onto her. This isn’t the Troi that we see too often: the Troi who is purely a victim of circumstance to be pitied. Instead, here, she takes the reins and drives her own ship.

The plot is pretty good in its own right. There is a great tie-in to Spock’s work on Romulus in the two-parter Unification. It is easy to believe that some would get disenchanted with the harsh rule of the Romulans–even those within the system themselves.

Overall, a great episode that finally gave Troi a chance to shine.

Grade: A “Troi rocked Romulus.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was a compelling story but suffered from once again, Troi being the victim of circumstances beyond her control. Though she did rise to the occasion admirably.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

Star Trek: TNG– For more episode reviews, follow this site and also click this link to read more (scroll down as needed)! Drop me a comment to let me know what you thought!

SDG.

Star Wars: Expanded Universe Read-Through “Rebel Dawn” by A.C. Crispin

rebel-dawnI have embarked on a quest to read through the Star Wars Expanded Universe once more. Be sure to check the linked text there to see other posts in this series. Here, we go back to the future past to see the origins of Han Solo with book three of the Han Solo Trilogy, Rebel Dawn by A.C. Crispin. There will be SPOILERS in what follows.

Rebel Dawn picks up with Han Solo on his quest to acquire a ship. Of course, he gains said ship through gambling… against Lando Calrissian. Millennium Falcon, acquired. The rest of the plot follows interactions between Han and Bria, his old lost love from the first book in the trilogy, along with Chewbacca and Lando. The growing tensions leading towards a Rebel Alliance are laid out alongside conflict between the Hutts.

Crispin once again does a fantastic job writing the characters in believable ways with realistic motivations, demeanor, and dialogue. Each character feels unique with his or her own motivations and subtle actions to distinguish them from each other. This is particularly interesting when it comes to the Hutts. Crispin makes each Hutt unique in both personality and motivations. She did a fantastic job simply making the Hutts seem like a complete people group, as opposed to just inventing some characters and putting Hutt skins on them, Crispin’s writing presupposes and provides a whole background world from which the Hutts spring, thus giving them much more depth than if she’d simply done it the other way around.

Another interesting part of the novel is that it gives insight into how the Rebellion began. Imperial atrocities are hinted at alongside the activities of characters like Bria who are working to undermine the Empire in whatever way they can. Thus, the stage is set in these novels for the Original Trilogy.

There are two primary downsides to Rebel Dawn. The first is that, like the previous two books, while Crispin is extraordinary in her capacity to portray characters, she does very little to describe the locales in which the characters operate. There are a few exceptions, of course, like Cloud City, but overall the locations are just the blank canvas on which the characters operate. The other problem is that the book seems pretty rushed towards the end as a lot of loose threads have to be wrapped up while also having to skip ahead to the “present” time of the Original Trilogy. It just doesn’t wrap up as nicely as the other two books in the series.

Rebel Dawn is an excellent read that fills in a lot of backstory for Han Solo and Chewbacca, as well as for Lando and even in a very small way for Leia. Not only that, but it gives a lot of interesting detail about the lives and practices of the Hutts as well as giving background for how the Rebellion got started to begin with. I recommend it highly to those who love Star Wars.

The Good

+Great character development
+Ties back into the Original Trilogy
+Plenty of intrigue
+The Hutts are extremely interesting

The Bad

-Minimal description of locales
-Seems rushed at points

Best Droid Moment

Droids were too rarely mentioned to have one 😦

Grade: A- “Another solid entry in the Star Wars universe from Crispin.”

Links

J.W. Wartick- Always Have a Reason– Check out my “main site” which talks about philosophy of religion, theology, and Christian apologetics (among other random topics). I love science fiction so that comes up integrated with theology fairly frequently as well. I’d love to have you follow there, too!

Reading through Star Wars: Expanded Universe– Here you can read other posts in this series (reviews of other EU books) and make suggestions about what I should include in my reviews.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies/scifi/sports and more!

There are other posts on science fiction books to be found! Read them here.

SDG.