Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TNG Ep. 22: Symbiosis

The Enterprise saves a decrepit ship from crashing on planet Ornara. During the rescue, the doomed freighter inexplicitly sends over cargo before bothering to help the Enterprise save their crew. Two of the crew die because of this. The cargo turns out to be "Felicium," a medicine for Ornarans. Except, actually, it's an addictive narcotic. The two Brekkans saved from the freighter already know felicium's nature and are a bit nervouse that Picard will interfere with their trade by telling the Ornarans. Picard refrains because of the prime directive, which of course upsets Dr. Crusher. But he also refuses to help fix Ornara's other freighters, essentially abandoning the Brekkans on Ornara with the soon-to-be consequences of their dishonesty. The episode ends with the expectation that when this shipment of felicium runs out, all the Ornarans will experience withdraw and discover the true nature of the "medicine" the Brekkans have been selling them for generations.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but... Wesley made me cringe. It was at the end of the episode, but I had to mention it before I conveniently changed my mind. See, Tasha gives him the best short explanation about drug use in the history of mankind, and at the end Wesley quirks an eyebrow and says "I guess I just don't understand." I know he's supposed to be sheltered an an ultra nice kid and all, but that line and its delivery were just... Gag. The cynic in me won this round.

Whew. Glad I got that out of the way because it's also my only real complaint about the episode. The drug thing was nicely foreshadowed, and afterwards nicely explained. The best part, of course, is that those pricks will be stuck on the planet when it runs out of drugs and the withdrawls start. Whether they spill their secret or not, they're screwed.

And the line Picard gives Dr. Crusher about humans trying to help and always fouling it up? Spot on, Picard. Spot on. The truth behind that is one of the reasons I can stand the Prime Directive at all even though I'm not an Isolationist. There's something to be said for always thinking that you know what's best for other people, and being generally wrong. Studying South American history and the endless times that the US has or has tried to help - well, let's not get into that. Let's just say that sometimes there are no good choices and unintended consequences bite. Like cats in Australia.

But hey, at least we aren't knowingly, as a planet, dishonestly operating as drug dealers for another planet. That's low, man. They're just lucky they didn't threaten to kill Wesley or something, because then Picard might have had to kick their butts.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

TNG Ep. 21: The Arsenal of Freedom

The Enterprise investigates the disappearance of the USS Drake on their survey of planet Minos. Minos used to be run by an advanced weapons-selling race who are mysteriously all dead now. A holographic salesman greets the ship upon their arrival, but he's not a true AI and can't answer their questions about the Drake. Picard sends an away team which encounters another holographic projection, this one designed to lure them in and freeze them in place. Riker is frozen; Picard and Dr. Crusher join the away team to restore Riker. During the battle with the machine, Picard and Crusher fall into an underground cavern where they find the master machine trying to kill them, as well as the first salesman holographic projection. Picard learns that the machine killed all of the native inhabitants and probably the crew of the Drake. The away team tricks the machine into letting them off the planet by telling the salesman that they'll buy the darn thing. Congratulations, your demonstration was effective.

It makes me cranky any time an episode is saying "war is bad," but this one wasn't too obnoxious about it. And really, who can resist the good ole plot of "makers killed by what they made." I just prefer the made thing to be an AI, like Lore. Oh! When do we get to see him again?

And, of course, having the doctor be the one that's hurt was a nice subplot. Her knowing about the roots was a little kooky, but at least we finally got to learn more about her origins. In fact, none of the character interactions struck me as off like they have in other episodes. Tasha even acted like head of security and outwitted that second doohickey that was shooting at them. Even Tasha was not the weakest part of this episode, not this time.

No, the weakest part of this episode was the fact that the ancient race who built the killing computer didn't think to, you know, lie to it. Or include a master off switch. For goodness sakes. We have master off switches on our PCs. You know, that big green button on the tower? Press it long enough and the computer shuts off. What if the giant killing machine had gotten some kind of blue screen of death? How would they reboot it, then, without an off button? Pft. Lame.

I mean, maybe a master off switch would have still been useless. Maybe the machine would have fired on anyone who came near it. Still, its inclusion in the plot would have made the dead alien race - and the USS Drake - sound that much less dumb. To me, it's scarier if the dead makers actually took reasonable precautions, and were still foiled. That makes it sound more like it could happen to us. Like... Lore. Lore has an off switch, for goodness sake.

I didn't hate this episode. I just wasn't impressed. Neeeeeext.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Questions for Writers: Cool Accents

I know that most published fiction doesn't emphasize the character's accents, but then of course we have our famous examples of stories that do. Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, at the very least. There are many different reasons to emphasize an accent. Most of them come down to wanting to emphasize socio-economic status or foreign backgrounds. Whatever. I'm sure you have your reasons, and if you don't, pretend you do for a minute.

If you were going to write a story where one or more of the characters have a pronounced accent, what would that accent be? What would be fun to write? What would be realistic for your story? If you decided to go all out and mimic the accent in your spelling, would that change your answer? Would some accents be too dang hard for you or your readers?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

TNG Ep 19: Coming of Age

If you're guessing that I like this episode because it in part features Wesley, you're right. But it's not just Wesley - Picard gets some good lines, and we get to learn about the Academy. So, without further ado...

The Enterprise arrives at Revla VII so that Wesley can take his Starfleet Academy exam. The exam isn't pass-fail, but a competition between him and the handful of other candidates. As the episode progresses, Wesley makes friends with the other candidates and even encourages them to have faith in themselves for the exam. Meanwhile, the Enterprise undergoes an investigation led by Admiral Quinn, an old friend of Picard's. Eventually the investigation turns up that Picard is awesome and there's nothing wrong with the ship. Admiral Quinn then invites Picard to be the next head of the Academy, which Picard of course turns down. Wesley faces his fear of indecision during the psych exam, and though he does well, ends up losing out to his friend that he helped during the exam. Picard tells Wesley that (shh!) he didn't get in the first time he took the test, either, and to buck up. No one leaves the Enterprise and life goes back to normal.

It was nice to see more about Starfleet Academy and the entrance exams, since normally we only hear about such things in the past tense. It helps flesh out the Star Trek universe, to say that yes, there is really an Academy that all the officers went through, and it's still there, and it's still churning out hotheaded youngsters like Riker. Normal life goes on even when the Enterprise is busy discovering Atlantis and then stealing their children back from Atlantis.

By the same token, it's nice to see that Wesley is subject to the same rules as most people even though his mother's a hot doctor and he lives on the most happening starship in Starfleet. You'd think they'd tell him that a year's experience on the USS Enterprise counts as his entrance exam, and he's in. I mean, for goodness sakes, the kid almost got killed back on Edo just because he fell on some flowers. I bet that's not the kind of thing his rival was thinking of when she told him that he was so lucky to be on the Enterprise and get real experience. But then, of course he's lucky, because some alien told Picard to stop being mean to Wesley and encourage his talents. Any way, it was good to see that other teenagers from different backgrounds had similar intelligence and potential as Wesley - especially the guy who beat him, although it's not a surprise that Wesley isn't going to be leaving the ship any time soon, so somebody had to beat him.

Oh, and, I've got to mention the hints about Wesley's father's death. Dratted hints! All we know now is that Picard had to make a tough decision and Wesley's father ended up dying. Oh, and I guess we know that Dr. Crusher doesn't hate him for it, which I had kind of already figured.

Ok, so, the other half of the episode was sort of about Picard and sort of about a vague over-arching plot that may or may not come up again in following episodes. Interesting. I'd prefer that it did, but won't be surprised if it doesn't. Apparently there's some kind of conspiracy, maybe, and maybe it's from inside the Federation and maybe it's from the outside. Heck, maybe it's Q. There's a lot of maybes, but whatever intrigue is going on is the reason that Admiral Quinn wants Picard to head the Academy.

And oh, watching Picard think about it was pretty awesome. You just know he's going to say no. Leave his starship, and do it to watch after young men and women? Leave it to head a teaching institute? No, thanks. I think Picard would die an early death with a job like that. A desk job. Ha. And, as he points out himself, Picard's not good with politics. Why should he be? He has no practice with it. Telling an alien species off is a bit different from how you get things done when your opposition is all "on your side" and supposedly "on the same page." Dealing with aliens is much more, "this is how it is," and "no, we don't want to kill you," or "no, you can't kill us." And also? If you manage to escape, you never have to see those aliens again. Picard can just tell Starfleet to put that planet on quarantine. Check it. Why would he give that up for a desk job? Ha.

The best part of the episode, though, is watching Picard tell Wesley that he didn't pass his first exam either. That's kind of like if your kid doesn't pass his driver's test the first time, except way more monumental, like, uh, space college. Space Harvard. You'll get in next time, Wesley.