Wednesday, November 30, 2011

TNG Ep. 55: The Enemy

The away team beam down to a dangerous planet to find a downed Romulan spaceship. Geordi gets lost on the planet and does not make the rendezvous to beam back up to the ship. Worf and Riker beam up without him, towing along an unconscious Romulan survivor. Dr. Crusher learns that the Romulan will not survive without a transfusion from Worf, which Worf refuses on the basis that he's a Klingon and the dude is Romulan. Meanwhile, another Romulan ship appears and demands that the survivors be returned to them, which causes some hoopla about the neutral zone and who is breaking what treaty more. Back on the planet, Geordi runs into another survivor, and they quickly learn that they must work together in order to survive and get beamed the heck out of there. Once they are beamed back to the Enterprise, Picard returns the Romulan to the other Romulan ship, narrowly avoiding an epic battle.

As the Wonder Pets say: "What's gonna work? Teamwork!"

Feel free to imagine that with cheerleaders and pompoms in addition to the duck, turtle, and hamster. What an unlikely Trio!

One thing the Wonder Pets have over the characters in this episode is that they don't hate each other to start off with. Thus, the title of the episode, in case you were wondering. Team work is easy if you don't hate each other! It's much harder if you're expecting to be killed and/or tortured in the foreseeable future. You don't want to be part of the team work that leads to your own torture, because that makes you a chump. But neither do you particularly want to die. Sigh. Decisions! Decisions are hard!

Yep. That's pretty much the take-away from this episode. Decisions are hard. I suppose that's a solid enough premise.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

TNG Ep. 54: Booby Trap

The Enterprise finds an old ship left over from a battle. After inspecting the ship they find that the debris field is a trap. Geordi must figure out how to get the Enterprise out of the trap, and to do so, he has the Enterprise create a holographic projection of a star ship designer - and guess what? She's cute. Together they figure out two methods that might let the Enterprise escape. One requires handing the ship over to the computer, and the other requires shutting down all nonessential functions and drivings the ship manually. Picard drives the Enterprise out of the trap and Geordi says goodbye to his holographic sweetie.

The opening scene where Geordi is on a date was pretty funny. As much as I like the shooty-guns bits of Star Trek, sometimes its nice to be reminded that they actually live on the ship, 24/7, inbetween the alien attacks. There's also a precedent for this kind of topic already. You might remember this scene from "The Dauphin" where Riker and Guinan pretend flirt as an example for Wesley. I probably shouldn't have mentioned that, because in comparison, this scene was pretty lame. Ah well. Maybe its because of the pat answer that Guinan gives, which amounts to "just be yourself." What would have been 'truly amazing' is if that lesson had somehow tied in to the rest of the plot.

OH WAIT. In true Star Trek fashion, it did. Geordi "meets" a young, smart woman - or rather, her holograph - that helps him solve the ship's problems. It's kind of creepy, and by kind of, I mean a lot. At the end of the episode the holograph assures him that she'll always be with him, every time he...touches the ship. And does Geordi learn anything about interacting with real women? Probably just that he shouldn't bother because his one true love is now a woman who is out of his reach on some star base or research station somewhere. Yeesh.

To contrast with the message that holographic women are awesome, the Enterprise crew goes the opposite direction when they escape the mine field. Geordi says that their chances are the same whether they let the computer try or do it themselves, so they opt to do it themselves, with Captain Picard at the helm. I'm all for believing that humans are superior to non-sentient machines, especially if those humans are Captain Picard, but in this case I'm not at all convinced. The escape depended on reaction time and correct calculations, not "intuition". I think the computer could have handled using the asteroids' mass to sling shot around and increase their speed. Letting Picard do it instead is like letting your legally blind great-grandfather drive you to the hospital.

Picard's references to building ships in bottles is cute, but eh. I never built ships in bottles. This episode had a lot of technical babble that I didn't care for, but at least ended with a big explosion.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

TNG Ep. 53: The Bonding

The away team accidentally triggers an explosion which kills Lieutenant Marla Aster, leaving behind her orphan son. A mysterious being from the planet appears in the form of the late Marla Aster, claiming to be his mother. The being causes other illusions that are designed to make the boy feel more at ease with his strangely undead mother. When the crew catches on, they try reasoning with both the boy and the alien. Eventually they win out by pointing out that the apparition can never be his real mother, and that he has the other crew members to help him through his grief.

Grief is always a hard subject to tackle, but I think this episode does a good job of it. It helps that they use a kid as the focal point, so that grief can be simplified for the limited time we have to explore it, but Worf and teenage Wesley are also adeptly used. In fact, their interactions with Jeremy are a bit like what self-parenting might sound like. Like, a part of you feels one way, but another, more mature part of you knows better.

And then there's the underlying question of what makes something real. If believing were everything, then insanity wouldn't exist, but if hard facts were everything, then delusions wouldn't exist because there'd be no room for them. Jeremy is offered a tempting fantasy. What, exactly, makes that fantasy wrong? Is it that he would always know that it was just a fantasy, so he could never fully accept it and be happy? Is it that it only mimics a lost reality, and can't actually replicate it exactly? Man, I got philosophy in my Scifi TV!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

TNG Ep. 52: Who Watches the Watchers

When the Enterprise stops to repair an observation outpost, the outpost's shields are accidentally disrupted and one of the proto-Vulcan Mintakan are injured. Dr. Crusher beams the Mintakan aboard, fixes him up, and wipes his memory, but something goes wrong with the memory wipe because he remembers seeing Picard. Once returned to his people, he starts a religion revolving around "The Picard" which ultimately can only be stopped by Picard himself showing up and offering to get shot by an arrow. Before that, though, Riker and Troi try other stupid ideas that only cause more chaos.

I like this episode because it deals with Prime Directive issues, but not in the "we're going to break the Prime Directive on purpose" way. Even the Enterprise crew makes mistakes! And does the mistake they make get to be the small, insignificant kind that fizzles out on its own? Ha! No. What kind of an episode would that make?

The one thing that's disappointing about this episode are the various comments degrading religion in general. I have no problem with the premise of the episode being that a religion builds around an alien sighting. Shoot. People make their brains jump through all sorts of hoops to explain what to them is the unexplainable. That doesn't mean that Star Trek has to make it sound like all religious people base their beliefs on random weird things that happened to their predecessors. We just don't want a religion based on an accidental sighting of Picard! And there the episode gets it right - the only way to correct such a mistake is to tell the truth. If the unexplainable is explainable, explain it. Especially if you're the one who caused the misunderstanding in the first place. Even the Prime Directive agrees. (Right? It should).

It is also nice to see that the Enterprise crew tried to fix the problem without revealing themselves further. You know, like they actually care about that Prime Directive thing they all swore to follow. Plus, the episode would have been really short if Picard beamed down at the beginning to tell every one what's what. Instead we had to wait until lives were actually at stake. That's the Star Trek way!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

TNG Ep. 51: The Survivors

The Enterprise crew finds a devastated planet with only two survivors. The crew's attempts to convince the two to leave their doomed planet are consistently interrupted by the mysterious appearance of an unknown enemy ship. Meanwhile, Troi is bed-ridden by a psychic audio hallucination of music, music that matches a music box found at the survivors' house. Eventually one of the survivors, Kevin, admits that he is an all-powerful alien who has been causing the enemy ship to appear and the music to play in Troi's head, all to keep from being bothered and/or found out for what he really is. He tells the story of the planet's destruction, and how in a fit of revenge he killed off the entire species that murdered his lover along with the planet. This he regrets, and he had thought to live out his days alone with her specter, created by himself. Picard decides to leave Kevin to his self-exile.

Ah, for once we meet an all-powerful being with something of a conscience, and one who can relate to humans. Oh, I suppose the shape shifters in The Dauphin (Ep. 36) also qualify, but that episode and its Wesley googley-eyes is best forgotten. I'm pretty sure Kevin is more powerful, any way. Something about killing 50 billion beings on a revengeful whim.

There's something about that kind of power that makes the moral question presented intriguing. As a species, we're often struggling to keep our moral compass up-to-date with our newest powers, usually technology. We, too, have weapons that we're reluctant to ever use. Nuclear Holocaust, any one? But this goes beyond that because WWIII would probably harm the very people who unleash such weapons. Kevin's powers are more precise, so he experiences no physical repercussions, even when its a whole species that he wipes out. What would keep us from blowing our enemies to smithereens if we could be sure that we'd suffer no physical harm in return? Whenever we're powerful enough to annihilate someone else, there's usually something like resource dependence, or even powerful third parties, to keep us at bay. What if you could kill your enemy with a thought?

Well, I suppose first you'd enter a truce with the rest of your all-powerful species not to use such powers on each other. And then, if you have a lot of you running around, it could get quite messy if every one is always acting on a whim. You'd think Q would be more careful, eh? But Kevin is different than Q in that he seems to have a conscience quite similar to ours, or what we hope ours to be. He made a mistake and he regrets it. He doesn't like to play god. That makes him a likeable character, and therefore makes this a likeable episode.