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.

The Hugo Award for Best Series: 2021 Reviews

Reading the nominations for the Hugo Awards for Best Series takes dedication. I have read at least the first three books of every single one of the series and given the series a grade and review based upon that reading. If I have not read the entire series, I have noted it in my review of the series. I would love to talk about these series with you, dear readers, and want to know what you think about them. Which is your favorite? Have you read them all? This year’s nominations are a pile of excellent books, so it’s worth diving in.

S. A. Chakraborty: The Daevabad Trilogy- Grade: A (The City of Brass, The Kingdom of Copper, The Empire of Gold)
There’s an allure about this whole series that stays with the reader all the way through. Chakraborty does such a fabulous job of building the world that the sights, smells, and sounds of the trilogy stick with the reader long after the books are closed. The different tribes of the Djinn make for some surprising conflicts and even protagonists and antagonists. The shifting nature of allegiance throughout the series means readers have to pay close attention even as they admire the prose and movement of the stories. It’s somewhat rare to see the final volume of a trilogy be the strongest, but I personally thought that was the case here, with The Empire of Gold providing a truly wonderful conclusion to the trilogy that had been building throughout. Chakraborty will most certainly be on my list of authors to read more

John Scalzi: The Interdependency– Grade: B+ (The Collapsing Empire, The Consuming Fire, and The Last Emperox)
Scalzi is endlessly entertaining. Every one of the books in this trilogy made me grin and even laugh out loud at times. Reading his novels can sometimes feel like reading an entertaining blog post that happens to go on for hundreds of pages. It’s not the strongest prose, but it’s captivating and always fun. All of that said, the story of this space opera felt alternatively epic and rushed. The premise is that there’s a way of travel that connects an entire empire together, and that way of travel is collapsing. The powers that be must then figure out what to do to secure their power or run into the night before the inevitable doomsday for all society. It’s a great premise, and it, along with the entertainment factor of Scalzi’s writing, carries the series on its back. The characters here aren’t as strong as some of the other works on this list, and the plot of the last book, The Last Emperox, feels extremely rushed. It’s unfortunate, because the series does have that sense of the epic at times, but as the events spiral too quickly, it loses it. Scalzi walks that fine line space operas must so often walk between being so huge they get overdone and rushing events too quickly, and he leans over to the “rushing” side with some frequency. All of that said, the series is immensely enjoyable top to bottom simply because of his writing. It also features one of my all-time favorite book dedications with The Last Emperox: “To the women who are done with other people’s shit.”

Mary Robinette Kowal: The Lady Astronaut Series- Grade: A+ (The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky, The Relentless Moon, and several short stories)
Kowal is a master of characterization, and this series demonstrates that beyond measure. An alternate history in which an asteroid strike smashed off the east coast of the United States and forced humanity to look to the stars for hope in colonization sounds like a pitch that would play out somewhat differently than it does. The thrust of these novels is much less about the impact of this asteroid strike on civilization than it is about following a few characters caught up in the work to become (lady) astronauts and explore space for the sake of all humanity. I have not read any of the shorter stories in this series, but did read all the novels, including the first one twice. Anyway, the first book, The Calculating Stars, won the Hugo Award for best novel a few years back. It touches on issues of racism, sexism, and more, all while couching it in familiar 1950s-60s vibes and culture. Kowal did her research and historical notes at the end of each book gives some fascinating insights into the novels. The second book, The Fated Sky, gives surprising insight into the characters we grew to love (and hate) in the first book, and it has launched itself in among my favorite science fiction novels. The third novel, The Relentless Moon, is also a nominee for best novel this year, and it follows one of our lady astronauts on the home front as others are on the way to Mars in the second book. Each novel is fantastic, and the series as a whole is as well. Fans of science fiction and/or period pieces will eat this up, and the series is a clear frontrunner for best series.

Martha Wells: The Murderbot Diaries- Grade: A- (All Systems Red, Artificial Condition, Rogue Protocol, Exit Strategy, and Network Effect)
The star of this series is the titular Murderbot, a security robot whose busted its programming and sometimes fantasizes about the murder it could carry out but mostly spends its time instead on protecting those close to it and binging TV shows. It’s a solid setup that allows for Wells to bounce from one-off to one-off while developing longer character arcs here and there. The first four works are novellas, and they move with the intensity and action of their format. Network Effect is the first novel in the series, and it has gotten a Hugo nomination (and a Nebula Win) under its belt already. The hugely popular series is popular for good reason: they’re just plain fun to sit down and read. Time and pages fly past when you read these largely escapist books. Wells weaves a few hints at our own political and societal concerns into the series as well for readers looking something deeper. The series is also continuing, as Wells signed a contract for several more works in the series with Tor Books.

Seanan McGuire: The October Daye Series- Grade: A (Rosemary and Rue, A Local Habitation, An Artificial Night, and many more novels and stories)
A huge series with 15 (and counting) novels and a host of shorter works to go with it, the October Daye series follows our half-fae character, October (Toby) Daye and her adventures intersecting the realms of fairy and our own. Whether she’s solving a murder, getting involved in kidnappings, or fighting demonic fae, the series brings action and whimsy together in delightful story after delightful story. These are quick reads, but they are more robust than you might think based on that description. McGuire has a way of worldbuilding that continues to work on itself, block after block, in ways that surprise and delight. The wild thing about this is that this isn’t even my favorite series from McGuire, but her writing is just so good that I keep coming back regardless of what she’s writing. I recommend you give it a try, too, because it’s worth finding out if you, too, can have another author that you plan to read everything from at the earliest possible moment. I love it. I read the first 5 novels before writing this, and plan to read the rest forthwith.

R. F. Kuang: The Poppy War- Grade: B- (The Poppy War, The Dragon Republic, The Burning God)
Kuang’s first book, The Poppy War, contains some of the absolute most gruesome and horrific descriptions of violence I have ever read in any book, whether fiction or nonfiction. I believe that is on purpose. However, I found the extreme amount and brutal details of gory violence to genuinely eat away at my enjoyment of that novel. It was especially surprising because early on, the book feels a bit like a Young Adult novel. I am not at all critical of something being YA. I love YA. I think rejecting something just because it’s YA is the height of stupidity regarding reading habits. I’m only saying it felt YA because it read like a “hey we’re going to school to learn how to fight” story that dominates a lot of YA fantasy at times. Then, it got so supremely dark that I almost felt sick to my stomach reading it. Such extreme violent could be pointless–and it almost feels like it here–but it’s also true that Kuang seems to be emulating some real life events, whether it’s an examination of Japan’s atrocities on China’s mainland in the second World War or more modern events (like the casual violence of running someone over to ensure you don’t have to pay for disabilities after an accident). These are themes worth exploring, but the extreme nature of the violence is so intense that I found it taking away from my enjoyment of the novels. Maybe, on some higher literary plain, there’s a sense that novels aren’t for enjoyment and that they can be for instruction or activism. I don’t disagree, but I also wonder whether the level of description was necessary. Regardless, I did read the whole series and I think the central plot is good, and sometimes surprising. I admit I started to skip over whole sections of text when I discovered more violence coming, though.

Links

Science Fiction Hub– I have scores of reviews of Hugo nominees, Vintage Sci-Fi, modern sci-fi, TV series, and more! Check out my science fiction related writings here.

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.

The Best Biographies I read in 2019

I read a lot of books. In 2019 I read almost 500 books, not counting the many, many, many picture books I read to my kids. We like reading. It’s a thing. I get asked a lot about what biographies I recommend. I think this is kind of funny, because I remember as recently as 5 years ago, I would have thought biographies are totally boring–why would anyone read one? Now they’ve become one of my go-to genres of reading. Real life, as they say, is often stranger than fiction. That may not be true, but real life usually does have a more enduring impact on our lives than fiction does, and that’s part of the allure of biographies for me. I read 20+ biographies in 2019, and I have here selected four that I think were the best. They give a range of recommendations for readers interested in different things. For good measure, I also included one I read in 2018 because it’s awesome.

The Big Fella by Jane Leavy

When I was in elementary school, Babe Ruth was still legendary. I don’t know if elementary school kids who obsess over baseball are still talking about “The Babe,” but I think that there is still probably some sheen of legend that covers the name Babe Ruth. Jane Leavy’s biography, The Big Fella, has a stated goal as an attempt to peel back some of that legend and get at the “real man” as well as true stories about his life.

I’m not entirely convinced Leavy totally succeeded at her goal, but that is also not really her fault. Peeling away the layers of legend is like peeling the layers of an onion, and there are multiple points (notably, how Ruth met his agent) that the Babe himself obscured with so many different “true” stories that getting at the truth seems an impossible task. Whether intentional or not, this meant that Babe Ruth will continue to have a legend built around him forever, because we can’t truly unmask every aspect of his life.

The structure of the biography is occasionally confusing, but this comes from someone who prefers a linear progression throughout a subject’s life.

What makes this biography so great is Leavy’s style and tone. It reads as though you, the reader, are getting a true look at the subject. You relate to the Babe in ways you might not have expected. His audacious feats, his glories, and his failures all seem to come to life and jump of the page. The Big Fella is a fascinating look at one of the most legendary figures in U.S. History.

Grant by Ron Chernow

I read Grant as part of my journey to read (at least) one biography per President in the history of the United States. Going in, I knew Grant as  a Civil War general who won the war, paying the butcher’s bill required to do so. I knew him as an ineffective President with a drinking problem. Coming out, I found that very few of the things I thought I knew about Grant were true. Chernow doesn’t set out to rehabilitate Grant, per se; instead, he sets out to find the truth of Ulysses S. Grant’s life, which turns out to be far more interesting and complex than received history has painted him.

Grant turned me into a defender of his Presidential legacy. It made me appreciate the man, even while acknowledging his faults. Chernow creates a stunning portrait that demands to be considered for those with any interest in U.S. history. More than that, he creates a sympathetic biography that makes readers think along the lines of decision-making the man himself may have traveled. It’s very, very well done.

My post outlining Grant’s life and accomplishments can be read here.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom by David W. Blight

Blight has created one of the most fascinating, monumental biographies I’ve ever read. Frederick Douglass is an absolute giant of American history, whether one is talking about moral, religious, or activist leadership. Time and again, I stopped reading in the middle of a page to reflect upon the powerful words of the subject, or upon his life choices and the way he challenged perceptions and received opinions. Blight weaves a narrative that both integrates Douglass’s own autobiographical content and also offers correctives and amplifications where needed. It is not just a great biography, it’s a great book, regardless of one’s tastes.

A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism by Kristin Kolbes Dumez

Katharine Bushnell is a woman who continues to influence modern theologians with her publications. A missionary, advocate for women, and astute thinker, her life story is told by Kristin Kolbes Dumez in this challenging narrative. I say it’s challenging because it touches upon the things we hold most dear. Regardless of one’s theological–or atheological–background, Bushnell’s life and thought will force readers to think about it. Have they really thought through their conclusions about men and women? Have they explored the biblical text as fully as they thought? Have they assumed that feminism and Christianity were complete opposites? Bushnell’s life will make readers think on these questions. And that, I think, is what great biographies ought to do: make us consider our own lives.

 Astounding: John W. Campbell, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and the Golden Age of Science Fiction by Alec Nevala-Lee

I read this biography at the end of 2018 and I frankly think it was cheated out of the best related work Hugo Award in the voting this year. Alec Nevala-Lee’s work here is a biography and history of four of the biggest names in early science fiction as well as a look at the “Golden Age” of the same. It is, in a word, astounding (I had to). As a science fiction fan, this was a must-read, and I was delighted by how enthralling the contents were.

There is no question that each of the subjects is profoundly problematic. Campbell’s racism, Asimov’s casual sexism combined with assaults, Heinlein’s… everything, and Hubbard’s myriad faults all have the light shown upon them. These men were not moral paragons. The fact that modern science fiction owes so much to them shouldn’t lead readers to reject science fiction, but it should lead them to think about what they’re consuming. Can we separate the fiction from the fact of the author? Is that even a question we should wonder about?

Alongside this tough look at sci-fi’s heroes, Nevala-Lee provides a hands-on look at the history of science fiction and how the ideas behind it were shaped through magazines, editors, and the like. This is an absolute must-read for any fan of science fiction, but I’d also recommend it to those interested in the intellectual history of the United States. Really, I just want more people to read and love it.

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.