Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TNG Ep. 41: Pen Pals

At first you might think that the plot is going to involve a great deal of Wesley, but we're quickly saved from this when Data gets a primitive radio signal from a dying planet. The voice on the signal is a little girl, and soon Data has the whole Enterprise rushing to violate the prime directive to go save his new friend. When the Enterprise gets there, the trouble with the planet turns out to be something geological that Wesley knows how to fix. While they right the planet, Data beams down and personally saves his little friend, who lives way too close to exploding volcanoes. Then, they wipe her memory and return her to her parents on the surface, leaving Data oh-so-lonely. As a last act of defiance - er, I mean, tenderness - Data leaves a stone as a comforting trinket for the girl, once again violating the Prime Directive.

The weakest part of this episode is that Data didn't get in trouble for any of his bending of the Prime Directive. ... No, wait. The worst part was the kid's makeup. Flashbacks to the lizard suit in TOS, anyone? Anyway, the fact that Data made a little friend is adorable, because deep down, we want to see Data as being a child himself. He's like pinochio, just wanting to be a real boy. With super human killing strength and amazing intelligence.

I love it that Data had contact with this little girl without informing his supervisors, as he technically should have. You see, he's smart enough to know that Picard will probably tell him to stop talking to his new friend, and it's easier to ask forgiveness than permission (as the Bynars have already pointed out). Data also knows that he's likely to follow the Captain's orders as long as they jive with general Star Fleet principles, because he's sworn loyalty to Star Fleet and to Captain Picard. So, it was easier for him not to tell Picard, and it makes Data intelligent in a way that's more than just equations and correlations. It's almost, dare I say it, emotional intelligence. And indeed, by waiting, Data helps force the hand of Picard and the Enterprise into helping his little friend.

Some people might be annoyed that Picard broke the Prime Directive, but let me remind you that this isn't the first time they've bent those particular rules. The Prime Directive is a principle, but not one that always makes sense for an individual case. It's the delicate balance we all have to achieve when our principals run into each other, for instance, the principal that we like to help people, versus the prime directive. Real life isn't as simple as our supposed absolutes. As for the Enterprise possibly getting in trouble for their actions in this episode, I see to recall being pleased that another of Picard's Prime Directive flaunts was called into question near the end of season one. Because of that, I feel it's unnecessary for us to see such a calling out again. The gist I get is that yes, the rules are very important to Star Fleet (otherwise why have them?) but they love people like Picard specifically because they trust him to know when to break the rules. I mean, they'll investigate him or what have you, but they don't put people in charge of ships like the Enterprise unless they have some common sense and some empathy, some humanity. They don't promote people to Captain if they wouldn't want to serve under them. At least, not in a perfect universe. And for this episode, everything turned out perfectly. They saved the little girl, and the only hitch is that she can't remember.

But Data can remember. Daaaaaaaw...

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

TNG Ep. 40: The Icarus Factor

Riker is offered a promotion, but it requires him to not only leave the Enterprise, but talk to his dad. It turns out he has some daddy issues that stem back to his father being just as stubborn and competitive as he is. After avoiding him for much of the episode, Riker engages his father in a martial arts match, which puts the two back on track with their relationship. Troi and Dr. Pulaski also talk about relationships, specifically theirs with Riker and his father. Riker decides not to take the assignment. He doesn't say why exactly, but his attraction to Troi might have something to do with it.

Thank goodness. This episode could have gone wrong in so many ways. I mean, Riker? (Ha.) Father-son issues? ... Klingons? There's even a fake Asian martial arts, but that didn't bother me because I'm not a martial artist. I'm sure any one who knows anything about real fighting would be popping veins over this episode, but for me it was just a pseudo-futuristic tool to make the boys actually talk to each other.

Speaking of which, I found the women's commentary hilarious, and gender stereotypes be darned. I've always believed that it would be impossible to get rid of all gender roles in our society, so if Star Trek had gone all high-and-mighty on that point, it would have been as ridiculous as when the crew talked about Capitalism in Season One. Instead we get a couple of grin-worthy jokes about stubborn men. In truth, it's nice to see that Riker's personality actually comes from somewhere, from both his upbringing and whatever genetics contribute to such things.

And, I can't leave off this episode without mentioning the Worf subplot. I can't say that I didn't find it a little humorous where it wasn't supposed to be, but I did appreciate the parallels between the two plots. Rights of passage and all that. Of course, we fully expect Klingon rights of passage to involve pain and yelling. Kudos to Wesley for putting up with that, eh? It's one of the few times the boy gets to show that he's actually growing up.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why "The Hunger Games" Trilogy Is Excellent

... It made me cry. So very few things make me cry. Out of all the books I've ever read, the only other ones that have brought tears to my eyes have been "Bridge to Terabithia", despite already knowing the ending, "Stranger in a Strange Land", and (cough) "The Lord of the Rings," although I'm not quite sure why for that last one.

To give some perspective: Other things that have made me cry include the beginning of the movie Up, but not the ending of Grave of the Fireflies. Meat Loaf's song "Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer than They Are" is banned in my household because it makes me break down EVERY TIME, but I can hear "Seven Spanish Angels" (Willie Nelson and Ray Charles) and "The Little Girl" (John Michael Montgomery) without batting an eye.

And then of course there are plenty of non-comedic things that are excellent but don't make me break down into tears. You probably already know that the Thomas Covenant series is one of my all time favorites,* but that never elicits any tears. Neither did "A Boy Called It" despite it being a true story about horrendous abuse. I still hold these books in high esteem, but there's something special about the ones that actually make you sniffle (...or sob). So, what makes something a tear-jerker? What's the difference between a novel that has sad, dramatic scenes and one that actually makes your bottom lip tremble?

And why am I SUCH a girl? (Just kidding!)

*If you don't already know this, then you haven't been listening to Pendragon Variety (.com)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

TNG Ep. 39: Time Squared

You can tell by the name that this episode will have something to do with time. I'm a sucker for wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff! Er, even when it's not Dr. Who. ANYWAY.

The Enterprise runs across a damaged shuttlecraft, which upon rescue, turns out to be an Enterprise shuttlecraft with Captain Picard in it. That makes two of them - both the shuttlecraft and Captain Picard were already on board, and it turns out that the new Captain and shuttlecraft are from six hours in the future. The crew also recover, with some difficulty, a partial video and log from the future shuttlecraft which shows the Enterprise being shot to pieces inside of some kind of vortex. The crew debates about fate and whether a time loop can be broken. In the meantime, the future Captain Picard is unhelpful because being out of time has put him in a kind of half-coma-nightmare state which only wears off as the Enterprise reaches his rightful time. The Enterprise encounters the vortex, which seems to be sentient, and all attempts to escape fail. Picard confronts Picard in his attempt to define his options and chose the best one. He choses to send the Enterprise into the vortex, and it works - unfortunately he has to shoot himself to do it, but at least the dead Picard and the future shuttlecraft disappear, leaving only O'Brian and the Doctor as the wiser. (Haha, the Doctor...)

I like that Picard decides to continue on their previous course, knowing that time loops aren't so easily avoided as simply turning around. Or maybe they are, but we don't get to find that out. Kidding, kidding. Picard seems to have learned from all his encounters with super powerful alien beings that like to run experiments on the Enterprise and so forth. The universe isn't that simple or that easily foiled, otherwise the episodes would be much shorter.

This episode doesn't connect much to the emerging overall plot of TNG, but I still felt that it was done well. The episodic quality is used to emphasize that "where no man has gone before" feeling. The Enterprise meets something strange, but it's a short encounter, and they don't have to learn everything about the vortex-creature for the episode to end. They're mostly just glad that they survived!

Except for future-Picard. He did not survive. Even if you take into account that he no longer exists because the time loop was broken, for a moment there, present-Picard shot him and he was dead. I have to say, that's pretty ballsy. It's one thing to know intellectually that you have to shoot someone who is, in one sense, you, and quite another to actually do it. On the one hand I'm willing to bet that Picard has personally shot people to death before. We know that he's at least ordered the destruction of a hostile Ferengi ship, but I mean that he's probably killed people in one-on-one combat. How else would he have survived so long in such a dangerous line of work? But then add on top of that the fact that it was himself that he shot, and... Well, I wouldn't want to be him. Or at least, I wouldn't want to be the sacrificed future-him!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TNG Ep. 38: The Royale

It's kind of like a holodeck episode, minus the holodeck.

The Enterprise finds a strange building on a strange planet. While investigating, they find the remains of a long-dead NASA astronaut - Also, the away team becomes trapped in a Casino-like atmosphere as described in a book that the astronaut happened to have on him. It appears that the casino was constructed by misguided aliens who wanted to give the astronaut a nice home after accidentally killing every one else on his crew. To escape, the away team must analyse the novel and convince the artificial patrons that they are the "foreign investigators" described therein. Luckily, the novel's fairly predictable.

Unfortunately for this episode, the back story sounds more interesting. We don't actually get to meet any aliens, just stereotypical casino lurkers. Now, the premise of the aliens basing their construction off of a book, and the away team being trapped therein, that part is fine. That's the interesting part, the part that screams Twilight Zone. But a casino? Eh. Didn't we have a mobster holodeck episode back in Season One? Also also in the original series? For some reason casinos and mobsters are linked in my mind, and Sherlock Holmes isn't all that tangential. So, for me, this episode feels like the revolving door that poor Riker tries to leave out of. Man, I hate revolving doors.

You know what might have been cool? If the astronaut were still alive! That might have added some urgency to the situation, even if the Enterprise wasn't able to save him in the end. It might have introduced more screaming and horrified looks. Screaming is always good!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

TNG Ep. 37: The Contagion

The Yamato experiences systems failures while investigating the fabled, extinct Iconian civilization within the neutral zone. The Enterprise changes course to assist, but the Yamato experiences warp core breach and is destroyed in the meantime. Upon their arrival, the Enterprise also experiences systems troubles, caused by a virus transmitted by an automatic probe from Iconia. Picard, Data, and Worf beam down to the planet to investigate, and find a portal that rotates its destination. Data attempts to access the Iconian computer systems but also becomes infected with the virus. Back on the ship, Data eventually shut down and reboots automatically, restoring his systems to a save point from before the virus was introduced. At the same time, a Romulan Warbird decloaks near the Enterprise and seems to be experiencing the same problems. Geordi, using Data as inspiration, clears the Enterprise of the virus, and the Romulans are also able to reboot their computers.

I like how the virus problem in this episode is relatable to computer problems I've personally experienced, yet I'm not quite sure how realistic it is that Geordi wouldn't already have the solution at his fingertips. Maybe, since spaceships aren't directly and permanently connected to any larger network, computer viruses aren't usually a problem. Yet, viruses aren't the only thing that can force you to reload an operating system. The more I think about it, the more I'd better ask my dad if I'm using the right tech lingo here, or if I even know what I'm talking about...

... and I don't. His words were something along the lines of "that's not how it works but you can still use that as an example." Shoot. Star Trek, you win this one! I can't critique something I don't understand.

I guess that leaves me with the obligatory "Data is Awesome!" commentary. I like that he has an automatic reboot, because if he didn't, that'd be ridiculously stupid of Soong. And I'm glad that Geordi can take a hint.


Monday, August 1, 2011

And Now for Something Completely Different!

After a month of just Star Trek (and a baby picture or two), I'm going to back to the previous once-a-week schedule, and on top of that, post about anything else. Like, that #flashfriday thing that I like to participate in? Or Pendragon Variety? Or Theory Train? Pendragon Express? All of those things that you haven't heard about in at least a month.

In fact, I've got a piece of micro-fiction for you now:

Birds chirped sweetly in the gray morning air, stirring a rumble from underneath the roots. "Who dares wake me?" demanded the tiny dragon, practicing.