Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Star Trek: TNG, Reviews Update

Wow! So, we've just finished the first season of The Next Generation. We're also almost nearly to July, which is the month that my second child is due.

To celebrate both occurrences, I'm going to start off season two at a faster pace.
During this marathon, I'll only be posting TNG reviews on this blog. That, and perhaps pictures of our newborn!

Besides, if we kept at one episode per week for the entire series, It'd take over 3 years! Personally, it's not going to take me that long to watch all of TNG with my family. Consider this a downward sloping part of the roller coaster.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

TNG Ep. 26: The Neutral Zone

While the Captain is away, Riker and Data investigate a derelict space capsule and discover three cryogenically frozen humans. There were others, but the rest have died. Under pressure to get back to the Enterprise when Picard returns, Data and Riker decide to transport the frozen humans to the Enterprise with them. From there, Dr. Crusher decides to unfreeze them because of the unpredictable state of their ancient cryogenics chambers. Picard is quite annoyed, not wanting the distraction while he takes the Enterprise to investigate the destruction of outposts in the neutral zone. He assigns the the newcomers to Riker, who manages not to get anyone killed. Eventually someone thinks to call in Troi as the ship's counselor to talk to the dislocated passengers. Meanwhile, the Enterprise discovers that the outposts are indeed destroyed, but the destruction resembles less of a battle or explosion and more that they have been scooped off of their respective planets. The Enterprise encounters a Romulan ship and almost fires upon them. Picard speaks to the Romulan captain and they agree to work together to find out what's happening to the outposts. However, their arrangement to work together is very limited, and the Romulans make it clear that they are not the Federation's allies.

Wait, there be Romulans in this series? The last time we caught wind of them we didn't even get to see any, and also the time before that, and then holy moly, there's a whole armed ship of them! Hot dang. Guess we gotta take them seriously, now.

This being the last episode of the season, I'm guessing that it's a promise that there will be more Romulans in the second season. My only contention with this is that the Romulans aren't the Ferengi, and I feel that the series can't have us caring about both at the same time. Not unless the two baddies team up. It's possible that I feel that way because the Romulans are almost an after-thought in this episode. What the story really focuses on are the humans that Riker and Data save from the deteriorating space capsule.

As far as the rescued humans go, what I find most interesting is how the writers attempted to cover a wide range of personalities in just three people. Secondly, their presence harps on the theme of powerlessness due to dislocation. The personalities show up in how each person handles their new position. First, you have the super anal retentive person who's used to having money and power and knowledge, and now has none of these things. Second, you have the laid-back artist who recognizes the value of not getting in other people's way, and sees his awakening as a new lease on life. Third, you have the person who didn't even chose to be cryogenically frozen, and finds the loss of personal connections such as family connections to be the most devastating. The AR dude has to be confronted by Picard in order to get him to shut up and start accepting his loss of power. The laid back artist fascinates Data. The woman who's lost her family is helped by Troi when Troi discovers that some of her distant relatives still remain on Earth.

Meanwhile, there's something about Romulans going on. The end of the episode even includes Romulans talking. Something about how they don't like how much the Federation has expanded while they were away taking care of "other business." Uh, ok?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

TNG Ep. 25: Conspiracy

It's worth noting that this is the second-to-last episode in the season. I am not disappointed.

An old friend of Picard's, Captain Keel, secretly contacts and rendezvous with Captain Picard regarding his suspicions of a conspiracy within the Federation, echoing concerns from an earlier episode, "Coming of Age". Captain Keel informs Picard that affected officials seem not to remember personal historical details, such as whom introduced whom decades ago, etc. However, Keel cannot tell the captain much else, especially after his ship is mysteriously blown to bits. Under Picard's orders, Data finds an unusual pattern of Starfleet orders supporting Keel's suspicions. The bridge crew is informed and the Enterprise returns to headquarters to confront the problem. Upon their arrival, former confidant Admiral Quinn attacks Riker in an attempt to invest Riker with an alien being. Picard discovers that the heads of Starfleet are similarly invested. Riker fools the heads of Starfleet into thinking that he is infested as they are, just long enough to help Picard defeat the aliens and their mother alien. Starfleet is returned to normal.

I am quite delighted that the conspiracy mentioned in an earlier episode has been brought up again and resolved. Continuity between the episodes is nice, even though TNG isn't one of those shows where you have to watch them all and watch them all in order to enjoy them. Still, some continuity helps the show feel like it's going somewhere. Kind of like when Dr. Who keeps seeing weird writing on the wall, and then you finally learn what all that's about. You begin to trust that the writers have a plan for the series and aren't just winging it.

Of course, the special affects are quite laughable by now. If you were watching this with us, you'd hear giggles and shouts referencing everything from Aliens to Animorphs (I'd be the one referencing Animorphs, of course). OMG an alien in my chest! Boooooody snaaaaatchers. Ha ha. I love how the aliens tried to say that they wanted to live in peace and harmony with humans. By taking over their brains. Ha ha ha.

But who wouldn't love watching an old man throw Riker? I'm always cool with Riker getting thrown around.

The best plot point, of course, was when Dr. Crusher tricks everyone into thinking that Riker has been snatched. To make it look like he's been infested, Dr. Crusher attaches a fake protrusion to Riker's neck, imitating the alien's breathing apparatus. Dude, I was fooled. That's one smart lady.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

TNG Ep. 24: We'll Always Have Paris

Investigating a time-loop phenomenon rippling through the galaxy, the Enterprise seeks out experimental scientist Dr. Manheim. Upon locating his facility in the Vandor system, the Enterprise discovers the doctor in distress and beam aboard the only occupants, Dr. Manheim and his wife. His wife, Jenice, turns out to be an old flame of Picard's that Picard stood you before leaving for the Academy. Dr. Manheim is dying due to a partially successful trans-dimensional experiment, which is also causing time "hiccups." Dr. Manheim explains how to enter the high-security facility to shut down the experiment, which Data promptly does. Meanwhile, Picard basically apologizes for being a jerk and he and Jenice resolve their past. Jenice stays with Dr. Manheim, back on the facility, and Dr. Crusher is relieved.

Ok, I have to admit. The more I learn about Captain Picard, the more I like his character. This episode, once again, makes him seem more human, and emphasizes that he's no spring chicken with a blank slate. Emphasizing his age helps justify his title as captain and allows the writers to utilize plots that just wouldn't be possible for a younger character. If Riker met a woman he'd spurned on Earth, the wound would still be raw and she probably wouldn't have married yet. Plus, it's Riker, so you'd expect him to handle the emotional situation badly. With Picard, the story can have a much different feel in large part because of his age. It's like learning about the girlfriend your dad had before he married your mother.

Dr. Crusher also handled herself maturely, even though she's shown that she can be quite the firecracker if things don't go how she thinks they should. Between her and Picard, the episode avoids being a terrible soap opera and instead has the realistic feel that people aren't perfect and life isn't perfect. Best of all, you get the sense that Picard has matured since he joined Star Fleet. Back then he abandoned the woman he loved - now he's reassuring her husband that she's faithful to him out of loyalty and love, not because they live in the middle of nowhere.

And, most importantly, the universe doesn't tear apart or implode or whatever. Interestingly, this threat is present, but overshadowed by the character development. Data gets to show off again, so it's all good. Seriously, if I had a super strong android on my crew, I'd send him on missions like that, too. He's simply the most capable when it comes to remembering all those codes and dodging lasers. Lasers! Weehee!

Lasers, beautiful women, and saving the universe. Obviously this episode has it all.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

TNG Ep. 23: Skin of Evil

The premise for this episode is pretty out there, though you don't get to find out the most out-there part until near the end.

A shuttlecraft returning Counselor Troi to the Enterprise crashes on Vagra II, but something prevents the Enterprise from beaming them away from the crash site. While investigating this oddity, the away team encounter what appears to be a sentient oil spill that can move and change shape and apparently keep people from being beamed off the planet. This "Armus" kills Tasha Yar, just for laughs. Except that really, she's dead now. While the away team is back on the Enterprise, Troi communicates with the creature and finds out that it is a "skin of evil" abandoned on the planet by its creator-predecessors. Picard joins the away team this time, but there's a short hoola over Riker getting enveloped by Armus and almost killed. Once Riker is safe, Picard sends the rest of the away team back to the ship and convinces Armus to let him talk to Troi. Troi tells him what she learned, and Picard puts that together with findings from the ship's crew to figure out that angry Armus equals distracted Armus. So, he angers Armus and the Enterprise is able to beam him and Troi off the planet.

I can't decide if the pure evil thing is mindblowing or mindblowingly lame. Although its creation is highly improbable, having a creature who is pure evil is a nice break from the moral ambiguity needed to make the overall show feel realistic. Sure, we want realism, but we also want to be reassured that evil does exist and that the Enterprise can recognize and fight it.

Above all else, I thought the betrayal of evil acurate. Evil is powerful and pitiful at the same time. It's only objective is to hurt others and gain for itself. Evil is absolutely not the kind of person that you give a spaceship to no matter what they hold over your head. You leave evil behind if you can. Or, as Data put it, "Absolutely no redeeming qualities."

It is also nice to see Troi's talents used to tell us things we didn't already know. When an alien dignitary snarls at Picard on the viewscreen, we all get that he's angry. Troi doesn't need to tell us, unless she can give us a hint as to why. With Evil, she was able to discover that he had been abandoned. Then she used her training as a counselor to get more details out of it. Lastly, she told the captain what she knew and that helped him yell at evil one last time for the episode wrap up. Picard's performance angered evil, which weakened his concentration and let the Enterprise beam Troi and Picard out of there. Woohoo!

Oh, and I guess Tasha died. Seemed kind of abrupt and stupid. Also, my dad spoiled the surprise by saying at the beginning of the episode, "Isn't this the one where Tasha Yar dies?" Yeeeeep. It sure is.