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!

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.

My Read-Through of the Hugos: 1962

I’ve almost completed my read-through of the top science fiction books of all time and was casting about for something else to do. I decided that reading through the list of Hugo award winners and nominees wasn’t a bad way to spend my time. Here are the nominees and the winner of the 1962 Hugo Awards. I’ve marked the winner as well as my own choice for which novel would win, had I the choice among the nominees.

Dark Universe by Daniel F. Galouye (My Winner) Grade: A-
Have you read about Plato’s cave? Okay, now that you’ve searched it and done so if you haven’t we’re on the same page. This book is a science fiction exploration of Plato’s cave. It’s done extremely well, combining elements of nuclear scare/red scare with world building that make a whole culture that lives purely in darkness. It’s fascinating all the way through, with how Galouye thought to even drop common sayings like “I see what you mean” out of the vocabulary of a culture that cannot see. The downside in the book is that the characterization is a little on the lighter end. Overall, a must-read, especially for those philosophically-minded science fiction fans.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (Winner) Grade: B-
Stranger in a Strange Land manages to capture the feeling of ‘alien-ness’ utterly, but stumbles slightly at the end, when Heinlein allows his own time period to take control of the plot too completely. It takes some digesting. It is clear that Heinlein wants to push his own view of the world, and that takes the reader out of engagement with the haunting story, at times.  Nevertheless, it is an interesting, engaging work. One of Heinlein’s better works. Though, like every Heinlein book I’ve read, it loses its luster the more I think about it. Yes, there was too much preaching from Heinlein about sex and drugs. Yes, it was hopelessly enamored with Heinlein’s favorite ideas. No, its characters aren’t three dimensional outside of the main character. It has serious issues all the way through, such that my initial largely favorable thoughts (I initially graded this one an A- on my first read-through) become more and more negative as I think about it. I also dislike it more the more I think about it in context of his overall body of work, though that’s hardly a fair measure. As a single book, standing alone, read in the right mood, this is excellent.

Planet of the Damned aka Sense of Obligation by Harry Harrison Grade: D+
I’ve enjoyed a few Harrison books, but this one was cliche in almost every regard. The characters were utterly predictable. The “surprise” discoveries were projected far in advance. The sexism was blatant, like when it is casually stated that women could not compete with men in a decathlon because women would “never” beat men at chess. It’s campy, but not in an endearing way as can happen. It’s just not a very well-written book in any regard.

The Fisherman aka Time is the Simplest Thing by Clifford Simak Grade: C
Clifford Simak is one of those names that looms large in classic sci-fi, but whose works, in my opinion at least, haven’t aged particularly well. Time is the Simplest Thing finds the protagonist engaged in a rather lengthy road trip basically trying to do… what? Having read the book rather carefully, I’m still not entirely sure why Shep Blaine decides he needs to flee when he encounters an alien that gets inside his mind. Is there some protocol of torturing information out of human hosts? Is there some way the alien is leading him? Kind of maybe. But the way it all plays out is written in a rather ho-hum, just the facts approach that doesn’t engage with the reader. Moreover, there is very little background for any character, making it difficult to really care at all about what’s happening. On the positive side, there is the occasional interesting exploration of themes like power, intelligence, and prejudice. My feelings after reading the book mirror the narrative style: ambivalence.

Second Ending by James White Grade: B-
James White is quickly becoming an author for whom I have a deep appreciation. The thing that makes him stand out, particularly for his time, is his almost total commitment to peaceful or even pacifist type solutions to problems. I have only read this book and the first of his Sector General novels, but I look forward to more. Anyway, Second Ending‘s biggest flaw is that it is too short for the story to really get off the ground. Yes, it is certainly possible for a short work to have a complete feeling to it, but this felt more of an amalgam of ideas than a deep plot. That’s okay, though, because the ideas–while somewhat dated–are interesting. White doesn’t have “red scare” in the traditional sense. Again, it’s all about what we–all of humanity–are doing to ourselves. If we destroy the world, what next? I enjoyed this pithy read, but it left me wanting more. Perhaps it’s time to dive into the next Sector General novel!

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!

My Read-Through of the Hugos– Read more posts in this series and follow me on the journey! Let me know your own thoughts on the books.

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.

Guest Post: “Seeing Our Present Through the Lens of the Past” – Vintage Sci-Fi

Pluto- Inspiration of many a sci-fi work, photo from NASA (Public Domain)

I’m very excited to offer up a guest post about Vintage Sci-Fi in anticipation of Vintage Sci-Fi Month (January). I hope you will join me an many others in dedicating a month of reading to vintage sci-fi (the loose definition of “vintage” that has been adopted is anything written before the year of your birth). I’m hosting this post as part of a blog tour for Vintage Sci-Fi Month!

Jacob of RedStarReviews is a lifelong reader who found out about #VintageSciFiMonth after it had been around for a few years and immediately joined in and now January is his favorite month of the year for reading.

Seeing Our Present Through The Lens Of The Past

We are almost in the year 2020. When we go back and read Vintage SciFi stories it’s quickly apparent that a lot of the authors guessed wrongly on how their future would turn out because we’ve bypassed several dates covered in these books and not left the solar system or met aliens or have personal jet packs in every household for ease of transportation. So why would we want to read stories that are seemingly outdated? Or even problematic in their views? That’s a question I’ve asked and been asked so I’ve invested some thought into this and would love sharing my answer with y’all!

I think there is great value (and fun) in seeing our present/near future through the eyes of the creative minds of our past. Some you’ll read and see they weren’t too far off, others are so far off it’s like you’re reading alternative histories, while others you read and you wonder if the author was a time traveler. However when you’re reading words directed towards the future from the past you’re also seeing the hopes, bias, dreams, fears, and thought processes from an earlier age and there is value in that. You can be reminded of how far we’ve come as a species and have hope that we’ll continue to grow; or maybe see where we’ve failed to grow and start addressing that. You get to see what dangers inspired concern in the hearts of those writers and consider if we’ve moved past those fears or if we still need to address those issues. You get to see us through their eyes and see if we measure up, fall short, or exceed their thoughts on the future of humanity.

Seeing ourselves through the eyes of others is a challenging and much needed experience! It is a worthwhile thought experiment and a good way to discover personal and societal growth. Vintage SciFi allows us the opportunity to do this and it’s one of the reasons why I love #VintageSciFiMonth and eagerly await January every year! I hope you’ll consider joining us this year and gain some new perspectives from older works.