Star Trek: TNG Season 2: “The Measure of a Man” and “The Dauphin”

measure-man

Oh, it comes off? Shoot… sorry.

I’m going through “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and reviewing every episode, complete with commentary and a grade from A-F. Here, we’re in season 2 and discussing episodes nine and ten. 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.

“The Measure of a Man”

Plot

Data is ordered to report to a starbase in order to be disassembled so that Maddox, a scientist, may create more androids. He refuses due to the risks of the procedure, but Captain Phillipa Louvois rules he is Federation property and so cannot resign. Picard challenges and Riker is forced to step in to prosecute Data in a courtroom to determine whether Data may be seen as property. Riker does his best and makes a stunning, dramatic case which even involves turning Data’s power off. Picard, after consulting Guinan, makes the argument that Data meets criteria of personhood and should be given benefit of the doubt. Louvois rules in Picard’s favor, ultimately overturning her previous finding. Data is not property.

Commentary

I’ll say it now: I’m going to gush. This episode is one of those that has stuck with me for years afterwards. The elements are all there for a fantastic piece of dramatic television. Riker’s stunning prosecution of the case brings one of the most chilling moments in the series so far as he says “the strings are cut…” and refers to Data as Pinocchio. The examination of the contents of Data’s packed bag demonstrates his own concerns in a way that no arguments ultimately could. The stakes are also high, as Data is clearly a major element of the crew of the Enterprise.

These dramatic elements are balanced by thoughtful reflection. Data, early on, voices objection to losing the “feel” of his experiences in-the-moment. Philosophically speaking, Data is essentially appealing to phenomenological aspects of consciousness, and although the episode only touches on the metaphysics behind all this, ultimately the question of personhood is determined by elements such as these.

Undeniably, this episode is carried by both plot and character development, and viewers are forced to see Data in ways they had never considered before. Can a machine become a “person”? The fact that this episode has us asking deeper questions like this demonstrates its staying power and effectiveness.

The closing scene of this episode also does something rare: it manages to blend sentiment and mentality in a way that shows exactly what science fiction does best. When Data speaks to Riker and tells him that he knows prosecuting Data’s case “wounded him” “and saved me,” I admit tears sprung to my eyes. Riker’s self-sacrifice became a way to save Data’s life.

The plot never drags, the drama continues to build, and even knowing the outcome you can’t help but dive in and immerse yourself in the arguments and celebrate the triumph of Data’s right to choose. The philosophical questions the episode brings up are just icing on the cake. Overall, this is hands-down one of the all-time best episodes of the series and indeed of any show I’ve seen.

Grade: A+ “One of the all-time great episodes with so many big questions and threads to chase down.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A “It’s like a coming of age story for Data!”

“The Dauphin”

Plot

The Enterprise is summoned to transport a head of state, Salia, to her planet. Salia is accompanied by Anya, her governess who is actually a beast-mode angry shapeshifter, which they don’t find out until later. Wesley falls in love with Salia and seeks advice for how to talk to her, which goes horribly. Ultimately, they fall in love, Anya tries to scare Wesley away, but everyone learns something.

Commentary

This episode had all the makings of an all-time worst episode. First, it’s focused on Wesley. Strike one. Second, it doesn’t really have much in the way of a threat, which is what TNG generally thrives on. Strike two. Third, it attempts to talk about teenage hormones and love…. in an 80s sci-fi show. Strike three? Despite all that,  I surprisingly didn’t hate the episode.

Wesley’s character had some good development (!) and although the episode at times bordered on some really annoying stereotypes (Wesley needs to “leave Salia alone”? She came into his quarters and kissed him!) it was at points enjoyable. Wesley is turning out to be not so hateful as I thought. So the episode really had a high upside. Unfortunately, it seemed “The Dauphin” never lived up to its potential. It largely turned into an episode about watching Wesley and Salia chase each other over the Enterprise. Despite the crew’s expressed fears over Anya’s abilities, it is hard to imagine that such a beast could not easily be disposed of with some phasers or just beaming her off the ship somewhere. Not much actually happens in this episode, which doesn’t necessarily make it bad, but it does force it to drag out a bit.

It would be interesting if they raised up Salia’s character again at some point in the future, and I don’t remember if she is, so I’ll give it a bit of a bonus for piquing my interest enough to care.

Grade: C “Surprisingly much better than the disparate parts, but still under-realized.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “I liked the character development and the unexpected twists and turns.”

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!

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Star Trek: TNG Season 6 “The Quality of Life” and “Chain of Command, Part I”

Get your motor running... head into the Jeffrey's tube... Lookin' for adventure...

Get your motor running… head into the Jeffrey’s tube… Lookin’ for adventure…

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.

“The Quality of Life”

Plot

The Enterprise is on hand to evaluate some kind of particle stream technology at a space station to see if Starfleet will back it. The project seems to have everything going wrong, but an experimental robot–the Exocomp–appears to be doing great work on catching up. Then, they start malfunctioning. As Data, Geordi, and Dr. Farallon–the lead of the project on the space station–try to figure out what went wrong, Data begins to suspect the Exocomps may be alive. Work on the station is slowed down as Data performs a few tests and appears to be mistaken. However, as he goes back over the problem, he discovers the test did not actually reveal what he thought, and the Exocomps are alive. They are to be deployed as sacrifices to save Captain Picard and La Forge, who were trapped on the station , but Data interferes and the Exocomps save the day anyway, by sacrificing one of their own.

Commentary

Lots of plot to try to summarize here, but it’s a fairly straightforward episode despite all that. There are machines that, on close examination, appear to have attained some kind of self-preservation functionality. Are they alive? Data says yes, everybody else appears to say no. Ultimately Data is apparently proved to be correct.

There are some questions to be asked here, and the episode occasionally touches on them. One is the definition of “life” and what constitutes a life form. Others that weren’t touched go around the question of artificial intelligence. Is self-preservation really the best criterion for establishing that something is life? Could not an AI program generate self-preservation as part of its accomplishment of assigned tasks? Is life emergent or sui generis? These questions are barely even hinted at in the episode, but they keep popping up in my mind.

That’s what undermines the core of the episode: the execution just isn’t quite there. It skirts over some tough issues (those hit upon in episodes like “The Measure of a Man”) to make its point, but it gets their both too quickly–by ignoring questions–and too slowly–by having too much of the plot consumed by one question. It’s certainly not a bad episode, but it left a strange feeling afterwards. It wasn’t quite satisfactory.

Grade: B- “Not a bad episode, but a bit too roundabout in its execution.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “The premise was good, but the execution was lacking.”

“Chain of Command, Part I”

Plot

The Enterprise is handed over to Captain Jellico and Picard is relieved as he, Worf, and Crusher are sent on a secret mission into Cardassian territory. Tension has been rising along the border and Starfleet believes that the Cardassians are developing a biological weapon. Jellico clashes with the crew–particularly Riker–as his hardlined get-crap-done style goes against the more deliberative way the crew has been operating.

Commentary

This episode is intense! The Enterprise has a different captain, Picard and team are training for a secret mission, the Cardassians are putting on the heat, and the crew is struggling to deal with the swirl of changes around them.

Troi had a good scene when she went to Jellico and attempted to convince him that he was a bit over-the-top. She was roundabout enough to not get in direct confrontation, but also pointed enough to get her thoughts across. The scene just revealed how big a jerk Jellico is. One major question that remains in my head (and I suspected it wouldn’t be resolved in the next episode) is how such a hard customer as Jellico managed to be a Captain of some pure science vessel like the Excelsior class. I mean maybe it helps them get exploration done more quickly but wow he needs to take a chill pill.

Although the infiltration scenes were a bit of a stretch (the three of the crew kept talking in normal voices–even crying out at times–in a situation in which they would have needed absolute silence), they were still exciting. To discover that it was a trap was a thrill, even though I’d seen the episode multiple times before.

Overall this was a great Part I. A huge question is left wide open: What happens to Picard!?

Grade: A “The plot thickens! Traps are laid! Picard captured!

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was pretty good, but some of the things didn’t make very much sense, like the way they did the change of command. Also, why is he so annoying?”

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: DS9 Season 4 “Accession” and “Rules of Engagement”

Skeptical? Thoughtful? Devious? I don’t know, it’s just the first picture that popped up for the episode.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Accession”

Synopsis

Akorem Laan, a Bajoran poet from 200 years ago, shows up out of the wormhole and claims to be the Emissary, arguing he ought to supplant Sisko. Additionally, he advocates for a return to the caste system, which would mean Bajor could not join the Federation as the Federation does not allow for any discrimination of that kind. Tensions escalate and cross-caste murder is occurred, prompting Sisko–along with a vision–to challenge Laan’s claim to be the Emissary. They go into the wormhole to ask the Prophets, who say that Sisko is the chosen Emissary and Laan’s presence was to return Sisko to his mission. Laan is returned to his own time with no memory of the events, and Bajor’s movement for the caste system is abolished once again.

Commentary

Anything involving the Prophets is weird. They just don’t seem to interact with reality the same way we do. What would be a reasonable way to remind Sisko that he is the chosen Emissary? Maybe, I don’t know, give visions to more people of him as Emissary? Send him another Kai who will affirm it? Nah, let’s shoot a poet into the future and have him try to integrate the caste system again, thus making Sisko angry enough to challenge him to a Wormhole showdown. Seems reasonable.

The prophets are just odd. I always wonder when they show up about how they chose to portray them as weird facsimiles of people that are known to the person they’re interacting with. This is supposed to be comforting but seems really creepy instead. Hey–here are all your friends and family talking to you but uttering complete nonsense or things that you don’t understand!

Anyway, the central drama of this does help build up the Bajoran culture more, too, especially with the reference to the caste system and the willingness of some to jump on board and not others. I wonder how our society might react to something similar.

Grade:  B “It is always weird to see the Prophets and try to figure out what, exactly, they are. But it’s also confusing. I like that Sisko got re-affirmed as Emissary.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “Rejecting old religious ways of dividing people in favor of new religious ways–not bad!”

“Rules of Engagement”

Synopsis

Worf is accused of destroying a transport full of Klingons, allegedly murdering more than 400 Klingons just because he thought they were another attacker. With Odo’s help, Worf is cleared of the alleged wrongdoing, as the names of those killed were the same names as those killed in an accident elsewhere. Worf is off the hook, but Sisko tells him he ought to have identified his target before attacking.

Commentary

I thought this was a strange episode. Perhaps it is intended to show how far the Klingons have fallen, but it seemed very odd for Klingons to be involved in this kind of setup. It seems dishonorable, and that’s something the Klingons care deeply about. On the flip side, they seem to have a serious dislike of Worf, who they want to get rid of desperately. I am just not sure how to reconcile it all.

I did enjoy Odo’s investigation and how he once again helps Worf. Their initial relation to each other was negative, but they’ve helped each other out–mostly Odo helping Worf. And, of course, there’s a trial type scenario in Star Trek again, which seems to be a strength of the whole franchise. Every time there’s a trial of any sort, the episode tends to be at least good if not sensational (eg. The Measure of a Man). 

Grade: B- “It feels out of character for Klingons to do this kind of subterfuge, but I enjoyed seeing the investigation.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “Basically any Worf-centered episode is good with me.”

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: DS9– 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: Deep Space Nine Season 1 “Duet” and “In the Hands of the Prophets”

Everything is awful.

Everything is awful.

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Duet”

Synopsis

Major Kira investigates a Cardassian passenger who is suffering from a syndrome that was limited to the survivors of an accident at one specific Bajoran forced-labor camp. She believes he helped perpetuate major war crimes at that camp, but he denies it, asserting that he was merely a clerk. As she continues the investigation, with help from Odo, she discovers that he was, in fact, Gul Darhe’el, the leader of the Cardassian labor camp. Or at least he appears to be. But some parts of this don’t add up, even as Gul Darhe’el now proudly boasts of the tortures and slaughter he helped carry out at the camp. The Cardassian leaders say that Gul Darhe’el is dead, and they have a different person. But why would anyone claim to be a war criminal? As Kira presses him, he breaks down under questioning, revealing that he was in fact the file clerk Marritza, who had changed his appearance to that of Gul Darhe’el to try to gain some justice for the Bajorans slaughtered at the camp he worked at–whose deaths he feels an enormous amount of guilt over, despite his being unable to do anything about it. As Kira goes to release Marritza, another Bajoran murders him, saying that his being a Cardassian was reason enough to kill him. Kira realizes, at last, that it is not reason enough.

Commentary

I can’t really say enough about how excellent this episode is. It draws quite clearly from various accounts of Germans who lived through the holocaust, often with immense guilt at not doing more to prevent the atrocities. It also draws some aspects from the true story of the capture of Eichmann (something well worth reading about if you haven’t–I suggest this book). It offers commentary on morality and human nature (and alien nature… whatever). It has a bleak ending, and I love my bleak endings in Star Trek. It’s got immense drama, mystery, and sorrow. These all combine to make a simply fantastic piece of Star Trek viewing.

Another aspect of the episode that is interesting is how much it relies on the characters. It gives Kira a way to shine without just being some insubordinate crazy person all the time (remember that time she BURNED DOWN A GUY’S HOUSE after camping out with him for a bit? yeah, like that). I think it is interesting that so many of the best Star Trek episodes are really just people sitting around talking to each other (“The Measure of a Man” from TNG, for example). That says something about the writers, to be honest.

If you really wanted to poke holes here, you could, but I’m not even going to go through and list the nitpicks that are possible because the episode is just too fantastic. It makes you think as a viewer, not just about the episode, but about who you are, what humanity is, and about history. A truly excellent episode and definitely the best of DS9 so far.

Grade: A+ “Not just one of the best Star Trek episodes across all the series, but one of the great pieces of television, period.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “Everything was great about it, except that by now Sisko should know better than to put Kira in charge of anything involving Cardassians.”

“In the Hands of the Prophet”

Synopsis

Keiko O’Brien is teaching her class about the wormhole when she is interrupted by Vedek Winn, a spiritual leader from Bajor. Winn complains that Keiko is not teaching orthodox Bajoran beliefs regarding the wormhole and bemoans any Bajorans being mislead by this teaching. As tensions surrounding what is taught in school about hte wormhole increase, Sisko visits Vedek Bareil, another spiritual leader of Bajor. Bareil is a front-runner to be the next kai, a major leader of the Bajoran people. He agrees with many of Sisko’s concerns, but refuses to put himself in the potential political quagmire that would follow condemnation of Winn. Back on the station, a bombing happens at the school, which finally prompts Bareil to come to DS9 to help ease tensions. Winn, however had set up an assassination attempt, and Neela, who’d been working with O’Brien, is stopped–barely–by Sisko. Major Kira realizes that Winn’s activity was largely an attempt to lure Bareil into the open, but she cannot prove anything regarding the conspiracy.

Commentary

I think the biggest problem with this episode is its rather condescending tone towards those who disagree with its central premise. Basically, if you don’t line up lockstep with reinterpreting your religion in whatever way Starfleet’s characters determine best, then you’re a fundamentalist idiot. But there’s no question asked about whether trying to force others to reinterpret the tenets of their faith is just or even acceptable. It’s just assumed that if you believe x, you should instead believe y, because we don’t like x. I found that a pretty severe problem, especially because Starfleet continues to be portrayed as this kind of benevolent, allow everyone to believe whatever they want, kind of society. Of course, there are plenty of religious people who do explicitly condemn or deny findings of science, and this can lead to bad things. However, there are others who do reinterpret such claims or findings, or simply accept them. The narrative of the science-religion conflict is front-and-center here, but that narrative is itself mistaken.

Okay, with that out of the way, it is worth looking at some of the things the episode got right. It did have a great build up to drama. The conspiracy Winn was involved in made sense looking back but was surprising when it was revealed. It built up more drama surrounding the Bajoran political system. So really, a lot of things were done well in this episode. But it was so danged pretentious I couldn’t get over it.

Grade: B- “It showed just how inconsistent Starfleet is with its alleged tolerance of all viewpoints, but had a fairly strong central plot to make up for it.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B “It dealt with the issues it raised, but I’m not sure that the issues it raised were real issues. Also, I just have a hard time believing that Bajoran spirituality is as monolithic as it keeps getting presented.”

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: DS9- 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: Deep Space 9 Season 1 “Q-Less” and “Dax”

We're in the wrong series!

We’re in the wrong series!

I’ve completed my re-watch of “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” Now it’s time to start Deep Space Nine! I am much less familiar with this show, though I’m pretty sure I’ve seen about 80-90% of the episodes. It’s been so long that I’m sure it will all feel brand new. My wife has never seen the show. She and I will go through, review every episode, and give commentary and a grade from A-F. There are SPOILERS for each episode below. Without further adieu, here’s:

“Q-Less”

Synopsis

Vash, the archaeologist friend/lover of Captain Picard, arrives at Deep Space Nine amidst some difficult circumstances. Almost immediately, things on the station start going haywire as power outages to various systems break out. Chief O’Brien thinks he has it figured out when Q shows up on station as well, but Q taunts Sisko and others for thinking it is him. Meanwhile, Vash is trying to sell a bunch of artifacts and partners with Quark to set up an auction. During the auction, the station gets in even more peril, and it turns out it is coming from one of the artifacts Vash has stolen. They beam it off station just before it explodes.

Commentary

I really like the character Vash, and I’m pretty lukewarm about Q. So I expected this to be overall a decent episode when both of them showed up, and it was. But the difficulty is that this was a story that seems to only exist for the sake of having these crossover characters show up. It’s like a big ad: “Hey everybody, you liked TNG? Check out DS9, because we bring TNG people over!” Meanwhile, O’Brien has been developed into a regular (and great) character. That’s how to cross characters from one series to a next. Don’t inundate–develop.

Oh well. The episode is kind of silly all around, and making Q try to have the same dynamics with Sisko as he had with Picard seemed forced. The mystery over what’s happening at the station–once it clearly became not Q–was very predictable. And, again, stop me if you’ve heard this before: Q gets blamed for something but makes other people figure out the real thing that’s happening. Oh yeah, TNG did that too.

Grade: B- “It was a little overdone, but I enjoyed the crossover characters from The Next Generation.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “It mostly just felt like they were rehashing The Next Generation storylines in a different setting.”

“Dax”

Synopsis

Police (?) from Klaestron IV come onto Deep Space Nine and capture Jadzia Dax to try to take her back home for trial for murder committed by Curzon Dax. However, Sisko and crew manage to stop them in time to use some political loopholes to force a hearing governed by Bajor over whether Dax will be extradited to Klaestron. At the hearing, the senior officers of Deep Space Nine endeavor to prove that Jadzia Dax is not the same as Curzon Dax and so cannot be responsible for the alleged crimes of the latter. Meanwhile, Odo is dispatched to Klaestron to investigate there. Dax is oddly reticent about defending her(?)self but Odo discovers this is because Curzon Dax had an affair with a woman back on Klaestron and is trying to protect that woman’s reputation. The trial seems to show that the two Daxs are the same, but with the evidence of Curzon’s alibi, the case falls through.

Commentary

The second episode in a row that seems to have major plot stolen from The Next Generation, “Dax” manages to pull it off with much better results. Yes, this is basically just “The Measure of a Man” retold with different characters, but because that inspiration was itself so good, this episode can’t be all bad. And it isn’t–it’s pretty good.

Another aspect of this episode is that it turns its inspiration around. Rather than trying to prove Jadzia Dax is something, the crew [or whatever I should call the main characters on a space station–the cadre?] is trying to prove she is not something (one). That’s enough of a twist to keep this episode from feeling entirely like it has been done before, and the added dimension of Odo going and doing some serious investigating ups the ante.

Overall, the episode builds Dax as a character more than has been done so far, and shows how complex her past is. Hopefully that theme continues through the series.

Grade: B+ “The plot has been done before, and on Star Trek, but it was still an enjoyable episode.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “It was an interesting idea, and there were good plot twists.”

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: DS9- 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 3 “Hollow Pursuits” and “The Most Toys”

hollow-pursuits

“I sense you feel awkward. Here, let me turn down the lights and get closer to increase that feeling.”

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.

“Hollow Pursuits”

Plot

Reginald Barclay is a “Joe Schmo” engineer on board the Enterprise who is a klutz. He’s always late for everything (except for every meal?), he messes up on the job, he’s socially awkward. No one likes him. Picard, however, decides that Geordi (among others) must make an effort to integrate Barclay into the crew. This turns out to be harder than everyone may realize as Barclay’s social awkwardness comes to the forefront. Moreover, a series of problems occurs aboard the Enterprise which leaves everyone on the brink of destruction. Barclay and crew attempt to figure out what is wrong, and Barclay ultimately figures it out with a rather unorthodox suggestion right in the nick of time.

Commentary

It is a testament to a show like TNG when it can make episodes about sub-characters which are even a bit compelling. “Hollow Pursuits” is really quite interesting as it reminds viewers that everyone has struggles, even in the sometimes pristine perfection of the future in Trek. And, really, as a viewer you have to feel sorry for Barclay. As mentioned above, he’s got a lot of problems. He even  has a nickname, “Broccoli,” from Wesley Crusher. Seriously!? Low blow!

Barclay is a relatable guy, and the episode does a good job making him such. His struggles are ones we often endure, like the fear of fitting in, “where to hold our hands,” and the like. But…

I wanted to give this episode a higher score, but I just found the main characters acting so out of character that it became really quite bothersome at points. Picard orders Geordi to become Barclay’s best friend? Really? I’m not surprised that the Captain would want his crew to make every effort for individuals, but Picard’s character also seems like one that demands the absolute best out of his crew, and when one is continually not hitting the grade reports of everyone else, there may just be a weakest link. Troi’s own behavior as counselor was unacceptable in a number of places, particularly her insistence that they intrude on Barclay’s private mental life on the holodeck.

Of course, all of these out-of-character moments are intended to make us relate more to poor ole Barclay, and at times they do work. The problem is that they are just so unbelievable it makes it difficult to buy into the episode as much as one like this needs you to in order to get the most out of it. It’s a solid premise with poor execution.

Grade: C “It was unbelievable and out of character for many of the main characters, but Barclay did a competent job carrying the episode just out of the ‘bad’ range.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B+ “Barclay was an interesting character and I thought that they managed the plot and characters well.” 

“The Most Toys”

Plot

Data is captured by Mr. Fajo, a man who collects rare objects, and coerced into becoming part of his collection. As Data resists, Fajo ups the ante and threatens lives of others in order to get Data to comply. Meanwhile, the Enterprise, thinking Data dead, rushes off to help a colony deal with a water problem. The crew of the ship realizes that the facts are just a bit too convenient and head off looking for Data. Data attempts an escape which leads to his partner’s death by Fajo’s hand, and the Enterprise rushes back to save the day, but not before Data made a hard choice to kill Fajo which was only interrupted by the transporter.

Commentary

Here’s an episode that has stuck with me throughout time. I’ve always remembered this one, because there is such a feeling of wrongness about it. When I was younger, I was enthralled by the cool idea of a guy who traveled around the galaxy trying to build up the greatest collection of interesting things, and as I got older I realized there was more complexity to this issue than meets the eye.

Once more, viewers are forced to consider the question of whether Data is property or a person. In the back of our minds, having watched the show straight through to this point, episodes like “The Offspring” or “The Measure of a Man” spring to mind to point us in the direction of thinking that Data is a person and this whole thing is one awful mistake. Fajo’s character sells this episode big time. He is nefarious, greedy, but also very thoughtful. He just wants “the most toys.” Is that too much to ask? Data insists it is and even comes to the tipping point where he makes a calculating–not enraged–decision to kill Fajo to prevent the cycle from continuing. It’s an epic moment f or Data’s character, as the viewers know it is not a decision based on emotion. This theme is reiterated when Fajo–his life spared only because Data was transported mid-firing–is confronted by Data who points out that it does not bring him pleasure to see Fajo contained. Yet as the credits begin to roll and Fajo is shown still standing in his cell, viewers are left with the distinct impression that Data, not Fajo, is the moral being. It’s a great point, and another poignant moment in an increasingly awesome season.

The only real problem with this episode is that it does drag on at points. The juxtaposition of the race to save a planet’s water supply with Data’s own struggle was solid, but it also made the episode feel a bit elongated. Many of the scenes on the Enterprise felt like filler, particularly because of the great drama in the scenes with Data. I downgraded it a bit because of this, but really this has always been an episode I enjoyed quite a bit. It’s a great premise with lots of moments of excitement. I give it an “A” in the enjoyability category, but stick with my final overall grade.

Grade: B+ “A bit of a drag at times, but an awesome premise and exciting execution.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “The plot felt a little contrived and the villain looked like an elf from the Santa Clause movie.”

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 3 “Deja Q” and “A Matter of Perspective”

Riker as cold-blooded murder doesn't actually seem that implausible sometimes...

Riker as cold-blooded murderer doesn’t actually seem that implausible sometimes…

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.

“Deja Q”

Plot

As a planet is nearing destruction, Q shows up on board the Enterprise claiming to have been stripped of powers and title. The crew struggles to believe him as the destruction of the planet grows more imminent. When aliens try to take vengeance on Q, the crew realizes he may be serious. Q decides to leave the ship to prevent more bloodshed and because of this selfless act is reinstated in the Q Continuum. He then saves the local planet from destruction and even thanks the crew.

Commentary

I gotta say it: I’m stunned that I enjoyed this episode. I remember not hating it when I saw it long ago, but I really don’t like Q. He’s annoying, the episodes he is in tend to purely be for the sake of deus ex machina without any relevance, he’s annoying, his episodes tend to be features on him rather than on individual crew members… and did I mention he’s annoying? But seriously, “Deja Q” is a solid episode. It expands on the wealth of annoyance I have as a viewer with Q alongside the crew’s annoyance with his previous absurdities in order to make him a relatable character. By making him become not only human, but also a (deserved?) target, even for the length of an episode, we find Q is vulnerable and frankly even terrified at the prospect of being in the same position he has placed others in.

It’s endearing, and surprisingly so. The episode made a character whose main feature has been to be utterly irksome and played turnabout, making him actually a bit likable.

The plot of the planet struggling is mostly just filler, but it provides a nice bookend to the whole adventure as the crew of the  Enterprise realizes they can’t really prevent the tragedy, while Q simply solves it immediately for them. It’s a deus ex machina which, for once, does not feel utterly contrived.

Grade: Surprisingly, A- “A ‘Q’ episode that’s not only not terrible, but quite endearing while also making him relatable? Incredible.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: A- “It was entertaining all-around though occasionally I wondered if they’d tried to squeeze too much plot in.” 

“A Matter of Perspective”

Plot

Riker is put on trial after he is accused of murdering Dr. Apgar, a scientist on a space station he was visiting, due to a dispute over Mrs. Apgar’s coming-on to Riker. The trial takes place on the holodeck and testimony varies wildly as the story unfolds. It doesn’t look good for Riker, though, as the energy burst that blew the station came from where he beamed out. Ultimately, it turns out that Dr. Apgar was in fact trying to kill Riker, but the plan backfired and he killed himself.

Commentary

TNG seems to fairly frequently have these “trial” episodes where a court is convened and usually something big is at stake. Sometimes it works spectacularly (“The Measure of a Man”); sometimes, not so much (“Encounter at Farpoint”). Here, it works really well. The difficulty with a series like TNG is that whenever a main character is in peril, you can be pretty darned sure they’re going to come out alright. Like Superman, it seems that sometimes the only way to injure them is through emotional trauma. Although “A Matter of Perspective” doesn’t fully capitalize on how traumatic this whole experience would have to be for Riker, not to mention various people who worked with him, when he is exonerated, there is genuine relief.

The episode has its problems, for sure. There are some pretty major plot holes in trying to figure out exactly what happened (though some of these are surely intentional), there are some major inconsistencies in how TNG handles transporting, and the ending does seem just a bit too convenient. The score for this one is really hard, and I’m going a bit against my better judgment. This is a deeply flawed episode, but I just enjoyed it too dang much to let that drag it down for me. I enjoyed it too much to go lower.

Grade: A- “Gaping plot holes and a bit of too-convenient solutions don’t totally mar this exciting episode.”

Wife’s Grade and Comment: B- “It was interesting but the flashback series got a little bit long.”

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: The Next Generation Season 2 Awards

measure-man

“Your arm’s off!” “No it isn’t!”

Well, we’ve finished Season 2 of TNG, and I thought it would be fun to hand out some awards. I’ve decided to break it down into a couple categories. My wife, who has not seen the series before, will also be picking in these categories.

Worst Character 

J.W.: Lwaxana Troi. She ruins everything. Everything. Even cool fishmen’s attempts to assassinate her and the rest of a conference in “Manhunt.” Come back fishmen, you must save us!

Beth: The old lecherous man who took over Data’s body in “The Schizoid Man.”

Best Character

Beth: Guinan, because she’s consistently interesting and she still does things you don’t expect.

J.W.: Data. He had the most development of any of the main characters, while also consistently delivering funny moments and boosting other characters alongside him.

Most Awesome Moment

Beth: When Riker shuts off data in “The Measure of a Man,” not for being the best or happiest, but for being the most remarkable.

J.W.: It would have to be when Riker turns Data off in the court scene in “The Measure of a Man,” followed by Data telling Riker that it had saved him.

Worst Episode

J.W.: The obvious pick is “Shades of Gray” because absolutely nothing happened. I’m going to give TNG a mulligan on that one (writer’s strike + out of budget) and instead pick “The Child” because there’s no excuse for that entire episode.

Beth: The season finale, “Shades of Gray.” They get a bit of a pass for the woes/budget, but it was still just bad.

Best Episode

J.W.: “The Measure of a Man” is one of the all time greatest episodes of any TV show I have seen.

Beth: Peak Performance” was just all-around good.

Overall Season Score and Comment

J.W.: I’d give this season a C. There are several really great episodes, but also enough garbage in there to drag it down despite some all-time greats.

Beth: C+, because most things were done pretty well but overall it seems like there is room for improvement.

Presidential Biographies: Rutherford B. Hayes #19

My quest to read (at least) one biography per President continues with Rutherford B. Hayes, the Nineteenth  President of the United States. The biography I chose with my selection process (reading reviews online and utilizing and this website- My Journey Through the Best Presidential Biographies) was Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President by Ari Hoogenboom.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President

Rutherford B. Hayes is one of those Presidents who has disappeared from history. I remember never hearing or learning anything about the man throughout my history classes (hopefully none of my history teachers/professors read this in sorrow–I may have just forgotten, to be fair!). When I got to this biography, I knew only a little more about him, mostly through reading a few works about Reconstruction and the other biographies of Presidents. Hoogenboom’s goal in this work is clearly to show that Hayes ought to be more remembered, both due to his influence on the office of the President and his work throughout his life.

Hayes was raised by his mother, Siphia Birchard–his father died 11 weeks before he was born. The family was closely knit and his mother never pushed him too hard in any one direction. He eventually ended up at Harvard Law School. During his young adult life, his thought and stance on slavery continued to develop, eventually moving towards a decidedly anti-slavery stance. He became an anti-slavery lawyer and defended fugitive slaves with his law practice. He became involved in politics as he became city solicitor–not his first  choice, but a well-paying one for the time. When the Civil War began, he initially stayed out of the fray, eventually entering the war as an officer.

Hayes distinguished himself repeatedly in military service, getting wounded 5 times throughout the War. He commanded several victorious battles and found himself somewhat a genius for war and also discovered he enjoyed what he saw as the thrill of combat. Unlike other letters from combatants I have read, Hayes’s letters as Hoogenboom cites them contain an almost light air–as though the battles were all in good fun, even as he describes people dying and the wounds he received. It’s clear that he had the constitution for battle. Ulysses S. Grant recognized Hayes’s prowess and lauded it.

After the War, Hayes again moved into politics, first as a congressman, then as Governor of Ohio. In Ohio, he helped ensure ratification of the 15th Amendment and worked for black voting rights. His various successes in politics lead to a nomination for President in 1876–a Presidential campaign that would be extremely contentious. There were multiple electors sent from several states and this led to disptue over 20 different electors and which were the valid ones to vote for President. Hayes needed all 20 disputed electors, and after much dispute, Hayes managed to gain them all. His election would be called a massive compromise by many Southern Democrats, but what Hoogenboom points out is that Hayes’s views on the issues that he allegedly “compromised” on were already in place before the election.

These “compromised” positions included Hayes’s belief that he ought to withdraw federal troops from Southern states. This was a hotly contested issue due to the implications for Reconstruction. Radical Republicans wished to keep them in place both to support fair elections and to enforce more strident, punitive measures against Southern states. Hayes continually believed–even before and possibly during the Civil War–that the United States had to be truly united. The way he felt that would best be accomplished was through self-rule by the South, rather than continuing to use federal troops. Part of this may have been pragmatic, as well, as Southern Democrats were pushing to defund military expenditures, leading to many federal troops working without pay for some time. This situation certainly favored some way to attempt to preserve Reconstruction while also moving control to the South. Hayes’s solution may be looked back on as somewhat naive–he believed that if he pulled out federal troops from the South and secured promises from Southern elite leaders, they would honor their word and protect black rights, including voting rights, in their states. This manifestly did not happen, but Hayes did not “compromise” here–instead, he attempted to implement an ultimately unsuccessful policy, trusting white elites to keep their word rather than betraying his trust. This situation would continue to worsen during his presidency as black voting rights began to be suppressed in earnest.

Hayes also faced major economic crises, including a battle over how to get the country out of a depression alongside major labor strikes, particularly related to the railroads. Hayes favored a more conservative gold standard for the dollar, moving it back to something that would be more trusted worldwide to support its value. This strategy ultimately succeeded, leading to the dollar’s value to increase relative to the world once again and help lead the United States out of a depression. The labor strikes were largely centered around railroads, as owners attempted to salvage their stock dividends by cutting the wages of their workers and forcing them to work longer and worse hours. When railroad executives appealed to Hayes, he responded by sending in troops, but only to defend public property. He took a moderate approach, not allowing the government to become a kind of strike-breaker for the railroads. This strategy paid off in the long run, as the railroads eventually raised wages back to more acceptable levels, though only after breaking the strikes with no small amount of violence.

Anti-Chinese sentiment increased across the United States, and particularly in California, during this time. People argued Chinese laborers were stealing American jobs with low-wage work (this ought to sound somewhat familiar to the modern ear), leading to the attempt to pass laws banning all Chinese from immigrating to the United States. Hayes wielded his power to veto here, and instead went directly to the Chinese government to make a treaty that would be amenable to both governments. Though this included a ban and restrictions on Chinese immigration, it is clear that Hayes saw in this anti-Chinese sentiment even worse repercussions for white supremacy. Hoogenboom notes that Hayes spoke at length about white oppression of others and against racism, despite his ultimate concession through treaty with the Chinese to some of this white supremacist thought.

Hayes also saw this thread of “bullying” by whites in the interactions with Native Americans. Specifically, the Nex Perce War, which was started by numerous white settlers invading land that did not belong to them and attempting to rid it even of those Native Americans who wished to live alongside them peacefully. Hayes worked to try to secure the land for the Native Americans, but ultimately caved to some white interests. He did work to suppress railroads and other disruptions of Native land, but had to fight against no small amount of heavy-handed tactics by others as well as the force of military action that had already begun without his authorization. The remoteness of these conflicts made it especially difficult for Hayes to handle, and he attempted to curtail white encroachment in Native lands by ordering them to be expelled, even prosecuting at least one major intruder in Native lands. However, the damage was already done, and less than a decade after Hayes’s presidency, Congress would forcibly and unilaterally allow further invasion of Native lands.

Another conflict in Hayes’s presidency centered around the patronage system for government positions. Hayes ultimately won this battle, facing down numerous senators who attempted to preserve their power to make their favored people occupy key government posts. Essentially, Hayes paved the way for more government posts to be directly controlled by the President and for the senators to issue recommendations rather than simply giving the posts to relatives or patrons without any oversight. Yet another major exercise of Presidential power by Hayes centered around the Enforcement Acts and voting rights for new black voters. Time and again the Senate attempted to pass laws that would effectively gut the 15th Amendment. These included many attempts to set up riders on bills that Hayes may otherwise have favored. Hayes publicly carried out this battle, using the veto over and over and elucidating to the public his reasons for doing so centered around the 15th Amendment. It was a battle he won handily, forcing Congress to back down after multiple defeats. Unfortunately for our country’s history, many states would violate these laws without consequences anyway, usually with the backing or at least intentional ignoring of all three branches of the government.

Hayes favored universal education as well as prison reform, seeing imprisonment as punishment but also the chance to bring reform to someone’s life. He became especially active in these areas after his presidency, leading to at least some minor reforms in that area.

Rutherford B. Hayes: Warrior and President is a great biography, though certainly biased towards its subject. Hoogenboom makes no effort to hide that, though. And it seems to be the case that Hayes’ legacy is one that deserves a closer look, even if many of his attempts at wider reform would give in to the grind of elitist, racist rule in the years and decades following his leadership.

Rutherford B. Hayes’s Original Ranking in THE DEFINITIVE RANKING OF PRESIDENTS OF THE UNITED STATES (Full and Updated List Here)

Rutherford B. Hayes (19th President – Original Ranking #5)- Rutherford B. Hayes was a reform-minded President in an era that needed it. He actively worked to thwart racism against Chinese, Native Americans, and African Americans, but in the long-term, his efforts failed. He naively believed that the Southern elites would hold true to their promises to defend black voters, while also taking the pragmatic path in withdrawing federal oversight from the governance of southern states. Despite these failures, Hayes also had much success. He did manage to thwart some of the rising racist sentiment, going directly to the Chinese government to negotiate a mutually agreeable treaty regarding immigration (despite this being guided by racial bias, Hayes managed to secure a lesser of two evils). He wielded his power to veto with authority to smack down southern congresspeople who tried to gut the 15th Amendment. He worked for prison and education reform and succeeded in bringing at least some of the change he saw as necessary. His administration stopped the depression by backing the dollar while also backing a moderate policy about labor that ultimately secured some small modicum of rights for the laborers. Hayes has undeservedly been forgotten in most surveys of United States history, but his impact is bigger than may be thought. His active work to curtail many of the evils of our country, though not saving it, did manage to salvage it from some of the worst possible turns. Thrust into an unenviable time, he succeeded in at least finding some of the light in the darkness, and doing so in a commendable way.

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.

Policy and Public Health: How several policies are negatively impacting the nation’s health

The way that we vote and the policies our leaders put in place can have significant ramifications for public health, as well as for our own health. Jonathan M. Metzl’s Dying of Whiteness shows how specific policies have negatively impacted public health (and other measurable outcomes). I was fascinated by this read, and wanted to discuss some of the data and subjects Metzl covers here.

Gun Rights and Public Health in Missouri

Missouri was once one of the most restrictive states in the union when it comes to gun laws. Then, after the turn of the century in the early 2000s into today, major support for repealing these gun control laws was stirred up. Now, Missouri boasts some of the greatest “gun rights” in the country, including the “guns everywhere bill” which removed “requirements for training, education, background checks, and permits needed to carry concealed weapons…” and also “annulled most city and regional gun restrictions” while expanding the “Castle Doctrine” against perceived dangers (24). Thus, Missouri can truly act as a kind of measuring stick for whether more guns yields less crime and, for Metzl’s focus, better public health.

Statistics show that since the 2007 repeal of the permit-to-purchase handgun law in the state, there has been a 25% increase in firearm homicide rates. Additionally, “Rates of gun death by suicide, partner violence, and accidental shooting soared as well” to the point that in 2014, for the first time in the state, gun deaths topped motor vehicle accidents for cause of death in the state (25). A common refrain, of course, is that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” What such a slogan ignores is that guns make people much more effective at killing people, often including themselves. The statistics and supporting studies suggest that gun laws including things like a permit-to-purchase law, reduces deaths, especially those by suicide.

The Affordable Care Act and Public Health in Tennessee 

Tennessee’s politicians and popular voters went against funding the Affordable Care Act after it was passed, and this has had significant outcomes in terms of public health. Because Medicaid wasn’t expanded as it could have been, this meant that between 1,863-4,599 black lives could have been saved but weren’t, and between 6,365 and 12,013 white lives might have been saved as well. I’m not an expert in how they get these numbers, but Metzl draws out both the method and the implications (174-175). Effectively, because people in the state of Tennessee gave into fears about “socialism” as well as racially charged rhetoric of “welfare queens,” they voted themselves into death, sometimes literally dying instead of getting the benefits that may have saved them if they had simply funded the ACA. One telling interview Metzl conducted includes a man who is likely dying from hepatitis C who says that he’d “rather die” than have “my tax dollars paying for Mexicans or welfare queens” (3). Metzl concludes from this and many other conversations that “Trevor voiced a literal willingness to die for his place in this hierarchy [of racially charged superiority], rather than participate in a system that might put him on the same plane as immigrants or racial minorities” (4).

What is even scarier about this is that proposed policies continue to pile on the negative public health outcomes. The number of uninsured Americans is projected to skyrocket back up if the ACA is repealed or replaced with a policy that fails to fund it adequately. Unfortunately, those most in need are the ones projected to suffer most. Learning about the real-world impact of sloganizing health care is something we all ought to do.

Education and Public Health in Kansas

The state of Kansas is a real world example of what happens when libertarian, anti-tax policies are incorporated at a state-level into the education system. When Kansas voted in significant Republican, libertarian-leaning leadership, Kansas became an example of what happens when policies of pro-corporate tax cuts and the notion of trickle-down economics is fully implemented. HB 2117, signed by governor Brownback, reduced taxes on top tax brackets by 25% (201). Along with these, the school finance bills that continued to pass defunded public school while simultaneously declaring that this lack of funds were “a win for Kansas students” (201, quoting Brownback).

What’s remarkable about this is that the public health impact on defunding schools can be measured. Additionally, Kansans of color are demonstrably more likely to be negatively impacted by the tax plans implemented by the government (212). As schools were defunded, graduation rates fell, as did commitment to higher education and post-graduate programs. Measurements that include “all-cause death rates” show a decline as Americans achieve higher education. Thus, a US adult without a high school diploma “can expect to die nine years sooner than college graduates” and the difference between someone with a college degree or a professional degree is five years of life expectancy. Additionally, adults without high school diplomas are more likely to have diabetes and other negative health outcomes (242). So, apart from all questions of whether cutting funding for schools somehow improves their outcomes–itself a highly questionable claim–the ties to public health alone show that Kansas effectively reduced its citizens life expectancy due to these funding cuts.

Conclusion

Quite seriously, the politics of resentment and dogma that has a knee jerk reaction to certain words means that we as a country are voting ourselves into poor health outcomes. Dying of Whiteness is a fantastic read that will challenge readers from all political perspectives to think about possible longer term impacts of the policies they support. I very highly recommend it to you, dear readers.

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.